Austin "Jack" DeCoster, testifying before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, apologized for the illness caused by the spread of the infection, The New York Times reported. He said the business "got big quite a while before we stopped acting like it was small."
"What I mean by that is we were big before we started adopting sophisticated procedures to be sure we met all of the government requirements," DeCoster said.
More than 500 million eggs produced by DeCoster's company, Wright County Eggs, and another Iowa company, Hallandale Farms, have been recalled. More than 1,500 people have been reported ill with salmonella traced to contaminated eggs.
DeCoster said his family was "horrified" by the outbreak: "We apologize to everyone who may have been sickened by eating our eggs."
DeCoster acknowledged his company has tangled with federal regulators many times. U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said his companies have had "run-in after run-in."
"Yet they continue to raise chickens in slovenly conditions and to make millions of dollars by selling contaminated eggs," Waxman said.
Food and Drug Administration investigations following the recalls determined the egg producers' facilities were infested with flies, maggots and rodents, and had overflowing animal waste pits. Congressional investigators discovered records of tests at Wright County Egg barns indicating toxic salmonella bacteria had been present for years before the outbreak, the Times reported.
Two animal rights activists were removed from the hearing room after brandishing banners that said "All eggs kill!"
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., criticized Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., for holding up a vote on food safety legislation.
"This is a public health imperative," Markey said. "There must be some exceptions for Republicans in the Senate. They must release this bill so that we can protect millions of families."
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, denied Coburn was preventing Senate consideration of the bill, the Times said.