Make Our Food Safe

Tainted Peanut Products Shipped Despite Knowledge of Salmonella Contamination

A New Mexico company, responsible to date for at least 41 illnesses and 10 hospitalizations, knowingly shipped peanut products contaminated with Salmonella, according to a series of inspection reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In recent FDA inspections of the Sunland, Inc., facility in Portales, Salmonella turned up in five total product samples: four in peanut butter and one in raw peanuts.  The startling results, however, do not stop there.  Inspectors found Salmonella in 23 different swabs throughout the facility, from equipment to the factory floor.

According to the report chronicling the results of the most recent facility inspection, conducted from September 17 to October 16, 2012, federal officials blame the unsanitary conditions on the company’s “failure to manufacture foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe that the outbreak is not over.  To date, over 300 different products containing ingredients from Sunland have been recalled.

Contamination problems at the company’s facility are nothing new. According to company records, Sunland found Salmonella contamination in its peanut and almond butters more than 20 times, including positive results in each of the last three years.  Filthy conditions and inadequate pest control were identified in a series of private, third-party audits.

Nevertheless, significant sanitary improvements were not made.  All told, there were an additional nine violations linked to unsanitary conditions including: equipment that was not properly cleaned; some processing equipment that, due to its construction, does not even allow for cleaning; employees’ failure to wash their hands before handling food products; and product that was “not adequately protected from pests.”

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in early 2011, requires each food facility to identify, implement and monitor measures to significantly minimize or prevent hazards. Food companies, such as Sunland, will be required to meet these new mandates once the law is implemented.