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Guilty pleas entered in 2010 Salmonella outbreak case

By Joe Whitworth+

03-Jun-2014
Last updated the 03-Jun-2014 at 19:18 GMT

Shell eggs were adulterated as they contained Salmonella Enteriditis
Shell eggs were adulterated as they contained Salmonella Enteriditis

The owner and chief operating office of Quality Egg have pleaded guilty on charges stemming from a Salmonella outbreak that affected thousands in 2010.

Austin “Jack” DeCoster and Peter DeCoster pleaded guilty in federal court in Iowa, in connection with the distribution of adulterated eggs.

As part of their plea agreements, the company and the two individuals admitted the company’s shell eggs were adulterated in that they contained Salmonella Enteriditis.

The company will pay a $6.8m fine as part of the charges under the plea agreement.

Sentencing to come

Judge Mark Bennett will decide on the sentencing and the men remain free on bail pending the decision but could face up to one year in jail.

Quality Egg pleaded guilty to one count of bribery of a public official, one count of introducing a misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud, and one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.

Austin “Jack” DeCoster and Peter DeCoster pled guilty to one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.

As part of the guilty plea agreement, fines are limited to $100,000 for each man.

More than 500 million eggs were involved in the nationwide recall, according to the FDA.

FDA collected nearly 600 samples from Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms of Iowa during the investigation.

The CDC reported 1,939 illnesses likely to be associated with the outbreak.   

From May 1 to November 30, 2010, a total of 3,578 illnesses were reported but based on the previous five years of data, the agency said it would expect 1,639 illnesses during this same period.

Cash bribe

Quality Egg acknowledged that, on at least two occasions in 2010, its employees gave a cash bribe to an Inspector of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The firm admitted its employees provided the bribe to the USDA Inspector, who has since died of natural causes, in an attempt to influence the inspector to release pallets of retained eggs for sale without re-processing as required by law and USDA standards.

The eggs had been retained or “red tagged” for failing to meet minimum USDA quality grade standards.

Quality Egg admitted that, from the between of 2010 to about August in the same year, the company sold shell eggs that were contaminated with Salmonella Enteriditis.

The company acknowledged that it produced, processed, held, and packed the contaminated eggs in Iowa and sold and caused the distribution to buyers in other states.

Quality Egg also admitted that from January 2006 to early August, 2010, its employees affixed labels to egg shipments that indicated false expiration dates to mislead state regulators and retail egg customers regarding the true age of the products. 

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