September 20, 2018

Sunland Says Shutdown After Salmonella Outbreak Unexpected

Sunland Inc., the peanut butter maker at the heart of a massive recall and Salmonella outbreak, says its shutdown by the US Food and Drug Administration  (FDA) earlier this week was “unexpected” and that it hopes to resume operations soon. Under its first use of authority granted by  the Food Safety Modernization Act, the agency on Monday suspended the company’s food facility registration, prohibiting it from doing business.

SalmonellaThe suspension follows an outbreak linked to peanut butter produced at the company’s plant in Portales, NM  that has sickened at least 41 people in 20 sates, a massive recall involving more than 250 products- including peanut buter that was used to make sandwiches served to children through the National School Lunch Program; and  five-year history of food safety violations. Pest control problems at the plant, included storing  peanuts outside where birds “too numerous to count” were flying over, landing on and pooping on nuts that had yet to be processed, according to FDA documents.  And, since 2007, the firm has been cited by FDA inspectors for its failure to “manufacture foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination.”

Up until now, quick fixes to these problems have been acceptable. In 2011, for example, the company’s response to solving its bird poop problem was not to move the product indoors and cover it  but simply to wipe the bird poop off the peanuts before processing them. Despite the fact that bird poop contains disease-causing bacteria including Salmonella, this solution was listed and accepted, as a corrective action in Sunland’s response to an FDA inspection, according to documents. “Bird excreta was removed before peanuts were put back in the process to be shelled. Date completed:  March 26, 2011.”

The track record between the company and the agency helps explain Sunalnd’s surprise at the crackdown, as stated on its website: “The agency’s order suspending Sunland’s registration on November 26, 2012 was unexpected and the company is disappointed by this development.  Sunland’s goal remains the same—to take all appropriate measures for the safe processing and handling of raw peanuts in its shelling plant and the safe production of nut butter products in its peanut butter plant.  Sunland is continuing to work with FDA in order to accomplish all steps necessary to begin shelling operations in its peanut mill as soon as possible.”

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