The Food and Drug Administration has released a consumer update, stating that their rapid response helped contain the Salmonella Bredeney outbreak linked to Sunland peanut butter. The product that caused the outbreak was Trader Joe’s Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter made with Sea Salt. The outbreak sickened 41 people in 20 states. Attorney Fred Pritzker, who has represented people in outbreaks like this, said, “Sunland had a responsibility to produce their peanut butter in a clean and safe environment. Ready to eat foods especially must be wholesome and free of contamination, or people will get sick.”
The outbreak was originally spotted in early September 2012, when reports of Salmonella Bredeney infections began. Many of those sickened were children, which raised a red flag with the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network. Trader Joe’s peanut butter was suspected as a source, although officials did not know who the contract manufacturer was.
Valencia peanuts are grown primarily around the Portales, New Mexico area. The Denver District Office of the FDA informed officials that a plant in Portales, Sunland, was known to make peanut butter for Trader Joe’s. The FDA went to the plant to investigate. They collected hundreds of environmental swabs from equipment, floors, and other surfaces in the facility, and dozens of samples from finished products. The outbreak strain of Salmonella was found in the environmental samples and finished products. Unfortunately this was not the first time Sunland had had problems. Between March 2010 and September 2012, eight product lots of nut butter containing Salmonella was distributed to consumers. And FDA inspections found problems at the Sunland plant in 2007, 2009, and 2010.
Peanut butter can be a problematic food. The product must be produced in a highly sanitized environment, since Salmonella is in the soil where peanuts are grown, and on the nuts when they are harvested. Roasting the peanuts is the only “kill step” for Salmonella when making peanut butter.
The Sunland recall resulted in dozens of derivative recalls, including products such as ice cream, pet treats, candy, granola bars, whole peanuts, Starbucks protein Bistro Boxes, and Smucker’s Uncrustables, which were sold in the national school lunch program. The FDA worked with Sunland to remove these products from store shelves. On November 26, 2012, the FDA suspended Sunland’s Food Facility Registration, prohibiting them from distributing food. This was the FDA’s first use of its registration suspension authority under the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010.
The last reported illness was September 21, 2012. But some consumers may not know they have a product that has been recalled. Look carefully at the complete list of recalled products at the FDA web site. If you have one of them, discard it or return it to the place of purchase for a refund. And if you ate any peanut products and experienced the symptoms of Salmonella, including vomiting, diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, chills, or headache, see your health care provider.