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Tainted peanut butter shipped despite positive salmonella tests, finds FDA inspection

By Joe Whitworth , 15-Nov-2012
Last updated on 15-Nov-2012 at 13:45 GMT2012-11-15T13:45:46Z

One of the products involved in the recall. This example from Chattanooga Bakery Inc
One of the products involved in the recall. This example from Chattanooga Bakery Inc

A US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection has shown Sunland Inc cleared peanut or almond butter for distribution despite its own testing system identifying the presence of salmonella. 

The peanut butter manufacturer is currently awaiting FDA approval for the site to re-open.

Salmonella from peanut butter manufactured by the firm has been found to be the source of an outbreak that has led to 41 illnesses in 20 states.

The FDA made 10 observations during the inspection of Sunland’s facility, in Portales New Mexico from 17 September to 16 October this year.

Distribution of contaminated peanuts

In its first observation the agency cited a failure to manufacture foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination.

“Since 2009, your firm has distributed lots of peanut butter and nut butters that were positive for Salmonella. The following is a list of products since 2009 that have been manufactured by your firm, have tested positive for Salmonella by your firm's internal testing program, and were at least partially distributed by your firm.”

The FDA identified products from June 2009 to August 2012 that tested positive for salmonella through the firm’s internal testing program but were cleared for distribution. 

The agency also identified products from May to September this year that tested positive for salmonella through their testing despite the internal testing program identifying them as not being positive.

“During the current inspection, the following samples of finished products were collected from your firm by FDA and tested positive for Salmonella. The products…were not identified as being positive for Salmonella by your firm.”

Environmental samples

In its current investigation the FDA identified at least 28 environmental samples collected that tested positive for different strains of the pathogen.

With some test results still pending, the FDA identified salmonella strains including Bredeney (the source of the outbreak), Meleagridis, Cerro, Teddington, Arapahoe, Newport and Dallgow.    

The FDA said that 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 and there were no records to document the cleaning.

Other observations included an employee using a spray bottle containing just water to clean a food-contact belt, equipment not facilitating cleaning and sanitizing and raw in-shell peanuts were observed in uncovered trailers and open to the elements with birds landing on the trailers.

As of 8 November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted 41 people infected with Salmonella Bredeney from 20 states, resulting in 10 hospitalisations.

Illness dates range from 14 June to 21 September from the strain which was isolated from opened jars of Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Peanut Butter collected from case-patients’ homes.

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