Salmonella Closes Peanut Butter Plant

Salmonella outbreak causes Sunland peanut butter plant to close

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Even foods labeled “organic” can be contaminated with salmonella. That's the lesson learned from the FDA's recent closure of America's biggest processor of organic peanut butter.

Sunland Inc. produces organic peanut butter under its own Sunland brand, and for chains like Trader Joe's, Sprouts, and Target.

The US Food and Drug Administration has revoked Sunland's production license after its New Mexico plant was linked to 41 cases of salmonella poisoning.

"Throw out Sunland products with best-by dates between May 1 and September 24, 2013."

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. The illness, called salmonellosis, usually resolves itself within a week, but some people with severe symptoms may have to be hospitalized. In the case of the Sunland outbreak, 28 percent of infected people had to be hospitalized. Children are more vulnerable to infection, and 63 percent of cases were in children under ten.

The infections were reported across twenty states. Sunland peanut products have a wide reach, and recalled products include peanut and almond butters, raw nuts, and granola bars distributed across the States and internationally.

The full list of recalled products is available on the FDA's website: http://www.fda.gov/food/foodsafety/corenetwork/ucm320413.htm

According to ABC News, between June 2000 and September 2012, eleven lots of peanut butter tested positive for salmonella. What's worse, the FDA reports that between March 2010 and September 2012, Sunland Inc. sent out products that had tested positive.

The FDA inspectors found that Sunland employees failed to wash their hands, improperly handled equipment that was used to process foods, and the company could not provide records about when the equipment had been cleaned.

Part of the problem was the building itself. It had not installed hand washing sinks, even though employees did not use gloves to handle peanuts. The bags that store peanuts were not cleaned. Sunland also used open trailers to store raw peanuts, where birds were seen landing.

The trailers were also open to rain, which is an easy way to create an environment where salmonella and other bacteria can grow. Inside the plant, doors were open that could let pests enter food areas.

The FDA found 28 locations in the plant that were contaminated with salmonella. The company disputes the claim that it knowingly distributed contaminated products. One result of Sunland's shutdown is a potential shortage in organic peanut butter. The company processed 90 percent of the country's organic peanuts.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 28, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013