Two former egg industry executives were sentenced to three months in jail Monday for their roles in the 2010 Salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands of people across the nation.
The father and son pair faced up to a year in jail on charges of shipping adulterated food. They are currently appealing the 3 month sentence and will be free while they do so.
The 80-year-old Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son, 51-year-old Peter DeCoster, live in Clarion, Iowa; both pleaded guilty last year to introducing adulterated eggs into interstate commerce.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) linked 1,939 illnesses to the outbreak, but officials estimate that up to 56,000 people may have been sickened. Investigators argue that the DeCosters and their company, Quality Egg, knew their Iowa egg facilities were at risk for Salmonella contamination before the outbreak.
Quality Egg knowingly shipped eggs with false processing and expiration dates to fool state regulators and retail customers about their age. The company also bribed a food safety inspector at least twice to approve sales of poor-quality eggs. They admitted this and agreed to pay $6.8 million in penalties. Currently, it is unknown when or how the DeCosters learned about the bribes, but prosecutors say that shows their disregard for safety regulations and public health.
Quality Egg is the largest producer of eggs in the northeastern region of the United States and ship about 9,000 cases of eggs to wholesalers, retailers, and vendors nationwide, according to their website.
Salmonella doesn’t make hens sick, like it does to humans; thus the bacteria can be present on an intact shell if there are some traces of feces on the eggshell from after the laying. Thus, egg factories are required to wash and do a sanitizing rinse of the eggs at the processing plant. Contamination of the egg may also happen before the hens lay. Salmonella could be present in the reproductive tract and thus enter the egg before the shell forms around the yolk and whites, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website. This is why it is generally advised not to consume raw eggs, or products made with raw eggs.
In 2008, each person in the United States ate an average of 247 eggs per year. Despite U.S District Judge Mark Bennett issuing a relatively tough punishment because of the widespread harm the outbreak caused, it is possible that the DeCosters will not serve any jail time. The AP reports that in the past 18 months, two Colorado cantaloupe farmers were convicted and received probation in a deadly 2011 listeria outbreak, and the former owner of Peanut Corporation of America was convicted in a 2008 Salmonella outbreak — but has not yet been sentenced.
S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, http://Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at http://www.TheReporterandTheGirl.com