September 22, 2023

FDA Says Rapid Response Helped Contain Sunland Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak

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.”

Salmonella outbreakThe 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. 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.


  1. How quickly the FDA pats itself on the back for putting out a fire that never should have been started. Sunland has been in violation of producing dangerous food for over five years. The apathy of the FDA and our government food standards allowed tainted peanuts to continue to be manufactured and served to the public, mainly children. Adding insult to injury it took the FDA over two months to stop Sunland from distributing any more product, allowing many companies who received tainted peanuts to continue manufacturing dangerous food.
    Forget terrorists and nuclear warfare, in the end it will be our food along with the help of the government facility that is supposed to keep the food we eat safe, that kills us all.
    All of the people involved with allowing Sunland to continue operations since the first violation in 2007 should be relieved of their duties, pensions and retirement accounts seized and never be allowed to work near food, even washing dishes.
    Just another reason to be ashamed of our government.

    • Craig Leland says

      Agreed. Reasonable regulations with harsh penalties for incompetent FDA inspectors. We can not accept the excuse that they are understaffed. As you state this is a repeat offender.
      Craig l.

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