July 16, 2018

Surprise? Food + Salmonella + Pests = Food Poisoning

Is it a surprise or is it just math?  If documents newly made public by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are to be believed, Sunland Inc., the Portales, NM-based peanut butter company at the heart of a Salmonella outbreak and recall of over 250 products, has had unresolved food safety problems including Salmonella and pest control issues for the last five years.

FDA documents, some of which are heavily redacted,  from 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012 all cite the same problems: the presence of Salmonella in the plant,  pest problems, poor food safety practices by employees, poor maintenance of the building and equipment and improper storage of raw materials. Here is a comparison of language used by FDA inspectors to describe problems at Sunland at 2007 and 2012. (Some of which were also cited in 2009 and 2011.)

Pest Control

In 2007, “effective measures were not being taken by the firm to protect against the contamination of food on the premises by pest (this is a repeat observation.)” In 2012, “effective measures are not being taken to exclude pests from the processing areas.” These pest control problems include storage of peanuts inside and outside  of the plant. In 2011 and 2012, inspectors noted birds “too numerous to count” were flying over, landing on and pooping on nuts stored outside that had yet to be processed.

By  2007, pest control was already a “repeat observation.” In fact, the 2007 report makes note of complaints by Sunland’s pest control company about Sunland’s failure to address issues that contribute to the harborage of pests. “We noted that the pest controller had many notes concerning the conditions in the firm’s warehouses. We asked management if the pest controller complained about the warehouse and nothing was done to correct it, how they expected the controller to do an adequate job. We stated that in the firm’ s defense, we did not observe any rodent pellets in the areas that we could get to.”

Unsanitary Conditions

In 2007: The firm failed to manufacture foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination.” In 2012: “Failure to manufacture foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination.” This problem was also cited in 2009 and 2011 and Salmonella was detected in the plant in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Production/Equipment Problems

In 2007: “the firm failed to take reasonable precautions to ensure that production procedures do not contribute contamination from any source.” In 2012: “Failure to handle equipment, containers and utensils used to convey, hold, and store food in a manner that protects against contamination… Specifically, the production and packaging lines of equipment in the Peanut Butter Plant were not cleaned after each time Salmonella was isolated from peanut and nut butter products between 2009 and 2012… There are no records to document the cleaning of the production and packaging lines after.” This problem was also cited in 2009 and 2011.

Employee Hand-Washing

In 2007, “employees were observed not washing and sanitizing hands thoroughly in an adequate hand washing facility before starting work and after each absence from the work station.” In 2012, “employees did not wash hands thoroughly in an adequate hand-washing facility at any time their hands may have become soiled or contaminated.” This problem was also cited in 2009 and 2011.

Food Storage

In 2007: “the firm failed to store raw materials in a manner that protects against contamination.” In 2012: “Failure to store raw materials in a manner that protects against contamination.” This problem was also cited in 2011 and 2012.

Five years of dangerous food safety violations? Maybe the surprise is that it took this long for confirmed cases of illnesses to surface.

 

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