FDA inspector: Farm where 200 million eggs recalled had rodent infestation

PANTEGO, N.C. -- A government inspector flagged a rodent infestation and various other unsanitary conditions during a recent visit to a farm that soon thereafter recalled more than 200 million eggs over concerns of salmonella contamination, according to a Food and Drug Administration document.

The inspector detailed sightings of more than two dozen live rodents in various parts of a Rose Acre Farms facility in Pantego, North Carolina, adding that multiple dead rodents were visible throughout the facility.

Notes in the document indicate that the "unacceptable rodent activity" had been going on since at least September 2017 and that "corrective actions" taken by the facility "have not been effective in reducing rodent levels."

Additionally, the inspector noted "insanitary conditions and poor employee practices" in the processing facility that "create an environment that allows for the harborage, proliferation and spread of filth and pathogens throughout the facility that could cause the contamination of egg processing equipment and eggs."

The inspector said some employees did not appear to be following sanitation protocol and were touching their "intergluteal cleft" and other body parts and then making contact with food contact surfaces without washing their hands or changing their gloves.

Condensation was visibly dripping from the ceiling onto production equipment, and there were "at least 25 flying insects throughout the egg processing facility," the inspector wrote.

That report was dated April 11; just two days later, the FDA posted a notice on its website that Indiana-based Rose Acre Farms was voluntarily recalling 206,749,248 eggs over concerns that they were contaminated with salmonella. The eggs were distributed to stores and restaurants in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

At the time the recall was issued, authorities were aware of 22 illnesses potentially linked to the eggs.

The remarks in the FDA report are "inspectional observations and do not represent a final agency determination regarding...compliance," the document said. Observations detailed in the report can be appealed by the farm.

In a statement to ABC, a Rose Acre Farms spokesperson said the "raw observations" were presented without context.

"It's unfair to be judged on the farm's operation without proper perspective or a chance to formally respond to an incomplete representation of a massive facility that houses more than 3 million hens. We do everything possible to safeguard our flocks and to ensure that we are providing a safe, affordable and abundant supply of eggs to U.S. consumers," spokesperson Elliot Carter said, adding that the company will produce a formal response to the report on April 26.