The former operators of a large egg farm in Iowa have agreed to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with a major salmonella outbreak in 2010.
Federal officials have charged Austin “Jack” DeCoster, his son Peter and their company, Quality Egg, with allowing the salmonella-contaminated eggs to reach consumers. They’re also charged with mislabeling eggs and attempting to bribe a USDA inspector. More than 500 million eggs were recalled and at least 2,000 people became sick from the outbreak.
The case is the latest example of prosecutors bringing criminal charges against food producers for sickening customers. Two Colorado farmers pleaded guilty in 2013 to selling cantaloupe contaminated with listeria that killed thirty-three people nationwide.
A former manager at the Quality Egg farm, Tony Wasmund, previously agreed to a guilty plea after being charged with offering a $300 bribe to a USDA inspector. One attorney who represented some of those who fell sick speculated in a blog post that federal lawyers might try to use Wasmund’s grand jury testimony to press additional charges.
U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan filed an information, or a criminal complaint, in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Court documents indicate the defendants have waived their right to an indictment. They will issue their guilty pleas during a federal court hearing in Iowa on June 3.
The DeCosters have sold their egg operations in Iowa, Maine and Ohio. In 2012, a strain of salmonella different from the one implicated in the 2010 outbreak was found on one of the DeCosters’ former farms in Iowa, which by then was under new ownership.
Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, is a collaborative public media project that reports on important agricultural issues in the Midwest. You can read more about the project on their website.