- Associated Press - Thursday, August 26, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House panel wants the owners of two Iowa companies involved in a massive egg recall to explain how eggs from their farms were linked to as many as 1,300 cases of salmonella poisoning.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on the recall Sept. 14. The committee is inviting Austin “Jack” DeCoster, the owner of Wright County Egg, and Orland Bethel, the owner of Hillandale Farms, to testify. The two farms have recalled more than 550 million eggs after they were linked to the cases of salmonella poisoning.

The committee is doing an investigation into the recall and has written both farms, asking about company operations, communications with the government, and what they knew and when.

The panel also has written the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the safety of shell eggs, and the Agriculture Department, which oversees other egg products and the health of the hens. The committee asked for records of inspections and past communications with the two farms, along with other documents. The FDA has said it has “no inspectional history” with the two farms.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, who heads the spending committee that oversees the FDA and USDA, also has written letters to the two agencies.

A spokeswoman for Wright County Egg would not say if Mr. DeCoster will attend the September hearing, but she said the company is “working right now” to respond to the committee.

“We will approach it in the same forthright manner as we have in our cooperation with FDA to date,” said Hinda Mitchell.

Mr. DeCoster has not responded to interview requests, and a worker at his office’s headquarters near Galt, Iowa, on Wednesday said he wasn’t available. At his home in Clarion, Iowa, on Wednesday, his wife, Patricia, also said he was not around. She said the last few weeks “have been quite a time for us” but declined further comment.

A spokeswoman for Hillandale Farms did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FDA officials have said they don’t expect the recall to grow beyond the two farms. The number of illnesses, which can be life-threatening, especially to those with weakened immune systems, is expected to increase.

Thoroughly cooking eggs can kill the bacteria, but health officials are recommending people throw away or return the recalled eggs.

Associated Press writer Ryan J. Foley in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.