Shoppers at a Los Angeles grocery store are warned about the recall. Associated Press photo

A second Iowa company reporting Salmonella-tainted eggs added to the already-massive egg recall this weekend, making it one of the largest in history.

Last week’s recall of 228 million eggs potentially tainted with Salmonella blazed across the news and sent people in all corners of the country to their fridges to check their eggs.  By the end of the week, however, an additional 150 million eggs from the same Iowa producer, Wright County Eggs, were added to the recall, bumping the number to a staggering 380 million.

But the egg recall broke records over the weekend when a second Iowa producer, Hillandale Farms, recalled 170 million eggs after their lab tests also confirmed Salmonella, bringing the new total to 550 million eggs recalled.

Salmonella enteritidis is the culprit in both recalls and, although it was only recently announced, the recall dates back to eggs laid and sold in mid-May when the outbreak of illnesses actually began.  According to the New York Times: “The numbers continued to grow, and in June and July, a database used to track disease nationwide found that the number of cases had risen from a historical average of about 50 a week to about 200.”   The inflated numbers led to an investigation by public health officials in the most affected states, who determined eggs to be the common link and traced the problem back to Wright County Eggs.

At least 1,300 people have been sickened so far (some reports are closer to 2,000), but Dr. Christopher R. Braden of the CDC was cited in the same Times article stating that only 1 in 30 cases in a Salmonella outbreak is typically reported to authorities so thousands of others may have been affected.   The most common symptoms are fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea beginning 12 to 72 hours after consuming a tainted product, usually lasting 4 to 7 days.

The cause of the outbreak is still unknown, although the FDA is investigating and notes that there are connections between the two companies, including the fact that they both use the same feed supplier.   And it didn’t take reporters much deep digging to turn up the litany of health violations, fines and lawsuits spanning several decades against Jack DeCoster, owner of Wright County Eggs.   His rap sheet involves everything from animal cruelty to abuse of workers to environmental damage, calling into question the health and safety conditions at his farms.

Sherri McGarry of the FDA stated last week that the outbreak “could have been prevented” if the farms had been in compliance with the new egg safety regulations that went into effect on July 9.   The new rules include requirements for companies with 50,000 or more chickens (about 80% of producers) to use refrigeration during egg storage and transportation and do routine tests for salmonella.

But the fact that egg producers are still noncompliant has legislators pushing to finalize food safety legislation that would give the FDA mandatory recall power, according to Food Safety News.

“This outbreak is just further proof of how quickly a food borne illness can multiply across states, sickening Americans and causing widespread distrust over the safety of our food system,” Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a statement Thursday. “And it adds to the urgency that, for far too long, has told the story of why comprehensive food safety legislation is needed. Our 100-year-old plus food safety structure needs to be modernized.”

FDA chief Margaret Hamburg also called on Congress to pass the food safety bill in order for the agency to have better resources for enforcement and inspections.  ”We need better abilities and authorities to put in place these preventive controls and hold companies accountable,” Hamburg said.  But her practical advice for now?  No “runny egg yolks for mopping up with toast.”

Consumers Union agrees.  “The contamination of eggs underlines that we urgently need improvements in the way FDA regulates the safety of food,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union in today’s press release.  “The pending Senate food safety bill would put FDA in the business of preventing outbreaks, rather than trying to deal with them after people get sick.  The bill will also increase the frequency with which FDA inspects food processors and require it to create on-farm safety standards for produce.”

Click here for Halloran’s quick video statement on what you should do to make sure you don’t get sick, and what we need to do to prevent future outbreaks.