Bill Marler

Food Safety Advocate & Food Poisoning Attorney

Sarah Lewis - The 2010 Wright County Egg Salmonella Outbreak

On August 13, 2010, Wright County Egg of Iowa issued a massive recall of its shelled eggs after evidence pointed to the eggs as the source of an outbreak of Salmonella enteriditis that had sickened over 1,000 people.  Five days later, on August 18, the recall was expanded to include 380 million eggs dating back to April 2010.  On August 20, Hillandale Farms, another Iowa-based egg farm, recalled 170 million of its eggs for possible Salmonella enteriditis contamination, bringing the total of recalled eggs to over half a billion. Two days later, Mary Clare Jalonick of the AP revealed that Hillandale and Wright County shared suppliers of both chickens and feed, thus establishing the link between the two farms.

The FDA investigation into the outbreak determined that chicken feed was the most likely source of contamination, as feed at Wright County facilities tested positive for Salmonella. As the investigation continued, the FDA released an Inspection Report detailing gross health violations at Wright County Egg, including unsealed rodent burrows, uncaged birds climbing manure piles to get to laying areas, mice, flies and maggots. Days later, former Wright county employees admitted that the company repacked eggs returned from the grocery store and sold them again, and that live cats and mice were present at facilities.

Further investigation revealed that Wright Farms had been cited for health violations for the past thirty years. These frequent citations, however, had not prompted the company to change its practices enough to avoid what became the largest egg recall in history.

The Wright County and Hillandale farms outbreak ultimately sickened at 1,600 people, and probably affected many more who did not report their cases.

One of these victims was Sarah Lewis, a 30-year-old small business owner and mother of two. Sarah and her sister both became ill with Salmonella infections after eating custard tarts served at her sister’s college graduation banquet. The night after the college banquet, Sarah became violently ill. The next day, her mother took her to the hospital, where she was admitted first to the ER and then to the ICU. After experiencing severe heart palpitations, she was moved to a critical care heart unit for three days.

Sarah was released, but was readmitted three weeks later when her condition did not improve.  After being released from the hospital for a second time, Sarah learned from her doctor that she had developed a Clostridium difficile infection, which causes severe diarrhea and cramping, and that her Salmonella infection was still present as well. Sarah continued to experience symptoms of her infection months after her hospitalization.

Marler Clark filed lawsuits on behalf of Sarah and a number of other victims of the Wright County outbreak.

In September of 2010, Sarah shared her story before Congress during hearings on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act as an example of the need for increased FDA oversight of the egg industry. The Act was passed in December, 2010.

To read more about the Wright County and Hilandale Egg Salmonella enteritidis outbreak lawsuits and litigation, visit the Marler Clark Website.

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