Health Concerns

Meet the Salmonella Villain

Austin J. DeCoster
Austin J. DeCoster Photo: Amber Waterman/AP

The largest outbreaks of egg-borne Salmonella enteritidis (abbreviated as SE in the biz) in U.S. history — including the latest, which started in Iowa andsickened thousands — can all be traced back to egg farms owned by Austin J. DeCoster, one of the nation’s largest egg producers. As the Times reports ahead of DeCoster’s appearance today before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, it’s easy to trace the first spread of salmonella at U.S. egg farms right back to DeCoster’s operations more than thirty years ago. “In this country, the Salmonella enteritidis epidemic appeared first in New England [in 1979], where Mr. DeCoster was the largest egg producer.” Then in 1987, DeCoster’s eggs were linked to the deadliest SE outbreak in U.S. history, which struck a number of elderly patients at Coler Memorial Hospital in New York City, killing nine and sickening over 500.

New York State ultimately embargoed eggs from DeCoster’s farms, after two more outbreaks were linked to him in 1988, and salmonella began appearing in multiple other egg operations in different states. More states then began requiring salmonella testing.

That’s where the Iowa connection comes in. DeCoster started his first laying barn there in 1991, and began selling off other farms to focus his attention on Iowa for one reason only: The state didn’t require salmonella testing, and DeCoster frequently “complained about the cost of testing” in other states.

So you got that? Industrial farming equals profit-mongering equals bad. At least now maybe there’ll be some federal oversight on the egg business. But still: gross.

An Iowa Egg Farmer and a History of Salmonella
Earlier: Easy Solution to the Egg Recall: Don’t Buy Cheap Eggs [Grub Street]

Meet the Salmonella Villain