On April 13, the FDA reported that more than 206 million eggs were recalled from supermarkets because they were linked to a salmonella outbreak. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, the salmonella outbreak started on March 5 and, as of April 16, sickened 35 people and hospitalized 11.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the reason for the recall was that the FDA found “unacceptable rodent activity” at the farm responsible for the eggs that caused the salmonella outbreak.
According to the Washington Post, the egg farm that produced the salmonella-ridden eggs, Rose Acre Farms in North Carolina, had a heavy rodent infestation that it failed to properly address.
In the original report cited in the article, the FDA said that it had discovered dozens of live and dead rodents inside Rose Acre Farms’ hen houses during an inspection they conducted from March 26 to April 11. Many rodents were seen “burrowing in and out of manure piles.” The FDA investigators also found baby rodents and rodent carcasses inside the hen houses, as well as what appeared to be rodent burrows. This, the FDA reported, was evidence of “unacceptable rodent activity.”
The discovery of rodents — as well as several other indications of “unsanitary conditions and poor employee practices” — led the FDA to conclude that Rose Acre Farms was not following federal health and safety guidelines.
People on the internet reacted with disgust, and wondered what might be considered an “acceptable” level of rodent activity.
Actor and comedian Harry Shearer even made a joke about the phrase:
According to the FDA, there actually is an “acceptable” level of rodent activity.
Despite the fact that people on Twitter seem to believe that any level of rodent activity should be considered unacceptable, the FDA does tolerate some level of rodent activity in food processing centers.
“There are unavoidable defects when you’re dealing with food,” a representative from the FDA told INSIDER. He explained that it is economically impractical to process food in a way that is totally free of naturally occuring defects such as mold, rodent filth, or insect filth.
As the FDA representative explained, that’s why the federal agency sets maximum levels of defects in food. These defect levels represent the limits at which the FDA will consider a food product “adulterated” and subject to enforcement. If a food product is found to contain defects that fall below those levels, then it would probably be considered acceptable.
According to the FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook, the level of rodent activity is measured by the number of rodent hairs.
For macaroni and noodle products, for example, the FDA considers an “average of 4.5 rodent hairs or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples” to be the threshold of acceptability.
While the handbook does not state the threshold of acceptability for rodent hairs found in egg products, the FDA representative did say that a small amount of rodent hair would probably be considered acceptable in most food products — including eggs.
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