US charges egg company, 2 execs in 2010 outbreak

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Associated Press

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 21 at 1:02 PM

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A company and two executives were charged Wednesday with selling the eggs responsible for a 2010 salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands of people and led to an unprecedented recall of 550 million eggs.

Disgraced egg industry titan Austin "Jack" DeCoster and his son Peter DeCoster were charged with introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, a misdemeanor. A charging document filed in federal court in Iowa alleges the pair and their company sold shell eggs tainted with the strain of salmonella blamed in the monthslong outbreak of 2010.

Their company, Quality Egg LLC, which includes the DeCosters' network of chicken and egg-laying farms in rural northern Iowa, is charged with introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce, a felony. The document says Quality Egg sold products from 2006 to 2010 with labeling that "made the eggs appear to be not as old as they actually were." The company is also charged with bribing a public official, a felony, for an alleged 2010 payment meant to influence a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector to approve shell eggs that had been held back for failing to meet federal standards.

Attorneys representing the DeCosters and the company didn't immediately return messages. The charges were filed in a document known as an information, which means they waived their right to be indicted and are expected to plead guilty as part of a plea agreement. No court date was immediately set.

Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who represented some of the victims of the outbreak, praised prosecutors for bringing the charges.

The Food and Drug Administration Quality blamed Egg, which marketed itself as Wright County Egg, for selling the tainted products that led to the outbreak. Another Iowa egg company with ties to DeCoster's operations, Hillandale Farms, was also implicated. The companies recalled 550 million eggs in 2010 after public health officials found a sharp spike in reports of salmonella, which causes fever, cramps and diarrhea and can require hospitalization.

Scientists traced the illnesses back to shell eggs from those farms that were served in restaurants and sold in grocery stores under several brand names. FDA investigators found salmonella all over the farms, along with filthy conditions including dead chickens, insects, rodents and towers of manure.

The Centers for Disease Control says more than 1,900 reported illnesses were linked to the outbreak, the largest of this specific strain of salmonella since the start of the agency's surveillance of outbreaks in the late 1970s. The CDC estimates that it also caused as many as 60,000 unreported illnesses. No deaths were reported.

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