The father and son who owned the Iowa egg facilities linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak four years ago have been charged with selling tainted eggs. Jack DeCoster and his son, Peter, have also been accused of trying to bribe an egg inspector and with putting the wrong date on egg cartons to mislead consumers about the freshness of the eggs.
Both DeCosters appeared at a congressional hearing in 2010 after nearly 2000 Americans were sickened by salmonella-tainted eggs that came from their operation. Jack DeCoster was first to speak.
“We were horrified to learn that our eggs may have made people sick,” DeCoster said. “We apologize to everyone who may have been sickened by eating our eggs.”
Austin “Jack” DeCoster founded “Quality Egg” in Maine in 1961. By the 1980s and ’90, DeCoster’s operation was declared an “habitual violator” of Maine law and federal standards. By 2010 DeCoster was one of the country’s largest egg producers.
“While we were big, but still acting like we were small, we got into trouble with government requirements several times. I am sorry for those failings,” DeCoster said during his congressional testimony in the fall of 2010. “I accept the responsibility for those mistakes in our operations.”
Peter DeCoster oversaw the Iowa egg farms that at the time of the egg recall in the fall of 2010 were producing nearly 36 million eggs each week.
“Our farm follows stringent standards for egg production, processing and transportation to ensure both the quality and the safety of the eggs when they reach our customers,” Peter DeCoster said in the fall of 2010.
Inspectors, however, reported filty conditions at the DeCoster operations in Iowa. They found piles of manure and dead chickens, with swarms of flies and rodents running rampant. It wasn’t the first salmonella outbreak linked to DeCoster. In 1988, 11 people in New York died and another 500 were sickened by tainted eggs from DeCoster facilities in Maryland and Maine. In the fall of 2010, Peter DeCoster told the congressional committee that “regrettably” salmonella was a “fact of life” in the egg industry.
“That is why all egg cartons bear the safe food handling instructions and the FDA model code requirements that all eggs be thoroughly cooked,” Peter DeCoster said.
According to documents filed in federal court, the DeCosters plan to plead guilty to the charges related to the 2010 salmonella outbreak, but it’s unclear if they will be sentenced to serve time in jail.
The DeCosters opened Wright County Eggs in 1996 and also gained a foot-hold in Iowa with a group of hog confinements. Iowa’s attorney general declared DeCoster’s hog operation an “habitual violator” of state environmental standards 14 years ago. DeCoster recently paid a $15 million settlement after women who worked at Wright County Eggs said they were raped and threatened by supervisors.