Six people in the Twin Cities have been sickened with salmonella linked to organic eggs from an Owatonna farm that sells to Lunds, Byerlys, Kowalski's and other markets and co-ops across the metro area.
Farmer Larry Schultz said several thousand cartons of eggs produced or packaged at his farm, and sold under three brand names, were voluntarily recalled late Wednesday after an investigation by state and federal agencies made the link to his operation.
"I started in this business in the first place because I think of my customers," he said. "I want to give them peace of mind."
Stores moved quickly to remove the eggs. At Kowalski's nine stores, they were taken off the shelves within 15 minutes of the notification, said Deb Kowalski, executive assistant.
The eggs also went to restaurants, food wholesalers and food-service companies in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Unaffected fresh eggs from farms associated with Larry Schultz Organic Farm will be back in some stores Friday. Schultz said those eggs are raised and processed elsewhere, and are not implicated in the salmonella outbreak.
The people fell ill from Aug. 12 to Sept. 24, the state said. They were children and adults, and all live in the Twin Cities area. Three people required hospitalization but have been released.
Five of the six reported eating eggs that came from Schultz's farm, said Trisha Robinson, an epidemiologist for the state Health Department. She said the other victim could have been sickened in other ways such as cross-contamination during food handling, contact with an infected person or by eating in a restaurant supplied with the eggs.
Last Friday, the state Agriculture Department conducted environmental tests at Schultz's barn, where his approximately 4,000 free-range hens lay eggs. The farm also contains a processing and packaging line. Two barn samples tested positive for salmonella, though officials said it will take another day to determine whether they are an exact DNA match to the strain found in the sick people.
Even so, the trace-back evidence was strong enough that Schultz decided to recall the eggs, which were sold under his farm's name and as Lunds & Byerly's Organic and Kowalski's Organic eggs. They are packed in bulk and in six-, 12- and 18-egg cartons.
Other Minneapolis customers included Whole Foods on Excelsior Boulevard, The Wedge on Lyndale Avenue S. and Seward Food Co-Op on Franklin Avenue. In St. Paul, customers include Mississippi Market locations on Selby Avenue and W. 7th Street, Whole Foods and Hampton Park Foods. For the complete customer list, which includes locations in Winona, Grand Marais, Mora and Moorhead, go to www.startribune.com/a756.
Consumers can return eggs to stores. Cartons bearing Plant Number 0630 or a "Sell by" date are not included in this recall because they came from Schultz's other, contract-processing facility. Some stores said they removed those eggs from shelves to avoid confusion.
So far, one Wedge customer has returned eggs affected by the recall, said Elizabeth Archerd, the store's membership and marketing manager. She spoke highly of Schultz and his organic products, which include chickens and turkeys.
"This is a man who takes tremendous pride in his high-quality and pure products," she said. "I had the Larry Schultz poached eggs for breakfast today."
State officials urged consumers to cook eggs thoroughly before eating to destroy salmonella or other bacteria. Salmonella can lead to sometimes fatal infections in very young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy people infected often suffer diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain.
Scientists think that salmonella enteritidis, one of about 2,500 strains of salmonella, passes from the ovaries of an infected chicken into the eggs.
Schultz said the equipment and barn will be thoroughly cleaned and the existing flock will be replaced. He said egg sales from his farm won't resume for some months.
He says he may never know the source of the salmonella because the environmental contamination -- on a machine belt in a room separate from the birds -- offers little clue.
"It is kind of baffling," he said.