Acting Quickly to Safegaurd
Time is of the Essence!
This year’s massive salmonella outbreak, linked to tainted peanut butter, sickened residents in several states — and an ensuing recall encompassed a large list of peanut butter-containing products as additional affected products came to light and were pulled from store shelves.
The peanut butter tainted with salmonella (as well as products containing peanut butter that were contaminated) all traced back to distributor Sunland. This week, the results of some observations made by the Food Drug Administration at Sunland’s plant were detailed in a new FDA report examining the outbreak.
According to the Associated Press, the FDA says that Sunland “distributed peanut and almond butters after its own internal testing showed the products were contaminated,” a contamination that came to light after Sunland-distributed peanut butter linked to a “Valencia” variety sold at Trader Joe’s was linked to 41 salmonella-related illnesses. Target and Whole Foods are among other retailers affected by the peanut butter recalls.
The FDA report followed inspections of the plant in September and October of 2012. Although it indicates issues were reported at the distributor as far back as 2007, action was not taken until the peanut butter salmonella outbreak.
The report read in part:
“Investigators found that employees improperly handled equipment, containers, and utensils used to hold and store food … Employees handling peanut products wiped gloved hands on street clothes and other times failed to wash their hands or change gloves. There were no hand washing sinks in the peanut processing building production or packaging areas and employees had bare-handed contact with ready-to-package peanuts.”
The report also indicates the FDA observed practices within Sunland processing facilities that could have led to increased risk of bacterial contamination. A food safety journal online reports that FDA documents indicated a lack of record-keeping regarding the cleaning of equipment, structural deficiencies that prevented proper surface cleaning, and possible cross-contamination resulting from equipment used to process both raw and cooked peanuts.
In addition, the FDA report said peanuts were not always stored properly, allowing for birds to land on the product as it was stored. Some peanuts are said to have been stored outdoors in open air containers, which also exposed the product to rain and may have precipitated potential growth of bacteria. In addition, leaks were observed inside a facility by FDA inspectors.
While the FDA asserts that Sunland knowingly shipped peanut butter from lots that had tested positive for salmonella, the company refutes the allegation. Sunland president and CEO Jimmie Shearer addressed the FDA report in a statement from Sunland, saying:
“At no time in its twenty-four year history has Sunland, Inc. released for distribution any products that it knew to be potentially contaminated with harmful microorganisms … In every instance where test results indicated the presence of a contaminant, the implicated product was destroyed and not released for distribution.”
Currently, Sunland’s facilities remain closed awaiting FDA clearance to resume producing product after the peanut butter-related salmonella outbreak.