Former DeCoster (now Centrum Valley Farms) Facility Still Haunted by Salmonella

eggcarton2_attPhoto courtesy of wikimedia user Gisela FranciscoCentrum Valley Farms is the company that planned to ”clean up Iowa’s egg industry” last year when it took over the notorious operations of Jack DeCoster in the state. You may remember DeCoster's eggs were implicated in the 2010 Salmonella outbreak that sickened about 2000 people. Unfortunately, it looks like Centrum Valley has food safety problems of its own. According to the Associated Press, the FDA sent a warning letter to the company after finding Salmonella Heidelberg (a different bacteria strain than the more common Salmonella Enteritidis blamed for the 2010 outbreak) in two of six poultry houses.

The plant is under strict oversight because it was one of several in northern Iowa implicated in the 2010 outbreak, which led to the recall of more than 500 million eggs nationwide and sickened an estimated 2,000 customers. During the outbreak, the plant was owned and controlled by Jack DeCoster, an egg magnate with a long history of food safety, labor and environmental violations. Centrum Valley Farms took over management of DeCoster's operations in Iowa last year, vowing to improve them.

In an Aug. 14 warning letter, the FDA said it was concerned about the presence of salmonella heidelberg or SH in Centrum Valley Farm's poultry houses, warning it could enter chickens' organs and end up in their eggs.

Given the facilities' shady past under DeCoster ownership, FDA scrutiny is justified. Recent evidence shows that DeCoster knowingly sold tainted product and kept knowledge of widespread contamination from the public prior to the outbreak.

Clearly, food industry transparency is an issue in Iowa. But that didn’t stop the state from passing anti-whistleblower Ag Gag legislation earlier this year, making it even harder to hold bad actors like DeCoster accountable. At least plant workers reporting FDA violations are protected under the Food Safety Modernization Act when raising concerns.

Without an industry culture that encourages insider voices to be heard, positive change toward food integrity won't come easy.

Centrum Valley Farms' multiple reported violations puts a crimp in its attempt to repair consumer confidence after the outbreak. What's worse is that the company wouldn't identify its customers, and touts its compliance to FDA regulations online, contrary to FDA's warning.

From the Associated Press:

The FDA said Centrum Valley was failing to test for salmonella in the environment when hens were 14 to 16 weeks of age and 40 to 45 weeks of age as often as required, and that its contract technician was not collecting enough samples for testing. Centrum Valley also failed to maintain records showing compliance with refrigeration requirements for eggs and had a salmonella prevention plan that was incomplete, the letter said.

With a combination of anti-whistleblower laws like Ag Gag and chronic food safety problems, it’s going to take a lot to maintain the public’s trust in the safety of food produced in Iowa.

Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.


1 Comment

  1. As a former Iowan from a farming community I was appalled at what I've seen and read about the DeCoster and other egg farms in my home state. Now I'm reading that Centrum Valley Farms are still refusing to maintain standards of health and cleanliness in their egg Farms.
    Only this week I watched the Public TV station program called Rape in the Fields. As a nation we should be ashamed and angry at what is done to women workers who are sexually abused by many men who hold positions of minor management positions. Where are those in the towns and cities where this abuse takes place who turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to this sort of abuse.
    There is also the oft given excuse that the migrants are taking our countrie's jobs. This can be refuted by the fact that many of our citizens refuse to take these jobs because they such hard work with long hours and low wages.
    We need to provide documents for these seasonal workers so they can work in safety and in decent conditions.. What an outrage!

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