Maine’s small-scale egg producers say they expect to benefit from the nationwide scare over a salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 1,000 people in several states.
“People are a little bit hesitant about buying at the grocery store” because of last week’s recall of hundreds of millions from egg producers in Iowa, said Gary Balducci, president of the Maine Poultry Growers Association, which includes about 40 small producers.
In Maine, poultry and eggs are the third-largest agricultural commodity, valued at about $104 million a year. The industry is dominated by two large owners, the Lough family, which operates Dorothy Egg Farms in Winthrop, and Jack DeCoster, whose operation, Quality Egg of New England, is based in Turner and Leeds.
DeCoster also owns Wright County Egg of Iowa, whose eggs have been linked to the salmonella outbreak.
Small-scale egg producers in Maine say they are careful to keep their flocks clean.
Pam Randall, who has 21 hens at her Christmas Farm in Buxton, sells eggs at her farmstand and cannot keep up with demand.
She said she and her children, Alexis, 6, and Isaac, 8, collect the eggs four times a day, then wash them and refrigerate them. Still, she said, in her own kitchen she always makes sure that eggs are thoroughly cooked, which kills salmonella bacteria.
“You really need to be careful,” Randall said.
Balducci raises pullets and sells about 50 dozen eggs a week from 100 layers at his Wishing Well Acres farm in Edgecomb. He said the recall will probably fuel more interest in backyard chicken coops in the growing number of communities, such as Portland and South Portland, that have allowed homeowners to keep a few chickens.
Ken Beaudoin of Midnight Meadow Farm in Saco said he expects a spurt of new business. Usually, he sells about five dozen eggs a day from 50 hens.
“It happened with the outbreak of spinach. I would anticipate this will too,” said Beaudoin, referring to the recall of E.coli-contaminated spinach in 2006.
The outbreak, first identified in May by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involves about a dozen states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts. No deaths have been reported.
Those stricken have contracted the most common strain of salmonella. Typical symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight to 72 hours of consuming the contaminated food.
Maine’s state veterinarian, Donald Hoenig, said outbreaks in the 1980s spurred Maine to develop one of the nation’s toughest programs to combat salmonella. The program requires large-scale producers to vaccinate and test their hens.
Hoenig said there is no evidence that hens that are allowed to run free are at any less risk for the bacteria than caged hens.
Maine’s rules are stricter than those announced last month by the federal government. The federal rules require egg producers to control rodents, which spread salmonella to hens through their feces.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: