Quality Egg executives sentenced in salmonella outbreak

Egg company purposely mislabeled expiration dates and bribed USDA inspector.

Two owners of nationwide egg company Quality Egg LLC were sentenced April 14 to three months of jail after pleading guilty last June for their connection to the distribution of adulterated eggs in interstate commerce.

Federal health officials linked 1,939 illnesses to the 2010 salmonella outbreak and estimated that up to 56,000 people may have been sickened. Prosecutors said Austin “Jack” DeCoster and Peter DeCoster were aware that their Iowa egg facilities were at risk for contamination and argued for tough sentencing.

Quality Egg agreed to pay $6.8 million in fines for selling old eggs with false labels, along with contaminated products. Additionally, the company pleaded guilty to bribing a federal inspector.

Normally, surplus eggs are sold at half-price to a breaker facility, which sanitizes and turns the eggs into a liquid product. In order to avoid the discount for extra eggs, Quality Egg relabeled old eggs to sell to the public.

Quality Egg admitted that, beginning no later than January 2006 and continuing through Aug. 12, 2010, its employees affixed labels to egg shipments to indicate false expiration dates with the intent to mislead state regulators and retail egg customers regarding the true age of the eggs. Occasionally, personnel did not put any processing or corresponding expiration dates on the eggs when they were processed. The eggs would be kept in storage for several days or up to several weeks. Then, just prior to shipping the eggs, personnel labeled the eggs with false processing dates.

Quality Egg also admitted that, between about the beginning of 2010 and around August 2010, it sold shell eggs tainted with a poisonous and deleterious substance, Salmonella enteriditis. The company acknowledged that it produced, processed, held and packed the contaminated eggs in Iowa and sold and caused the distribution of the eggs to buyers in states other than Iowa.

The Iowa egg company also acknowledged that, on at least two occasions in 2010, its employees gave a cash bribe to a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector. The company admitted that its employees provided the bribe to a now-deceased USDA inspector in an attempt to convince the inspector to release pallets of eggs for sale that were flagged for failing to meet minimum USDA quality grade standards. 

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