By: Martha Garcia | Published: November 16th, 2012
A month-long FDA investigation into the peanut butter manufacturing plant linked to a recent Salmonella food poisoning outbreak has found widespread contamination involving numerous strains of salmonella.
The Sunland Inc. plant in Portales, New Mexico, which manufactured a number of peanut butter products recalled this year, was investigated in September and October, following a national Salmonella outbreak that began in June.
More than 200 peanut-based products have been recalled this year amid the food poisoning outbreak, which has sickened more than 41 people in 20 different states across the country. There have been no deaths reported as a result of the outbreak, but more than half of people infected are under 10 years of age.
Nine Different Salmonella Strains Detected
The FDA recently released the preliminary findings of their investigation into the peanut butter manufacturing plant. Among the offenses found by investigators, five finished products tested positive for nine different strains of Salmonella during the investigation, after the company claims it conducted its own internal investigation into the source of the contamination.
The FDA inspection report listed numerous offenses at the New Mexico facility. Officials detailed the company failed to implement controls to reduce the possibility of contamination or growth of microorganisms. According to the report, Sunland records indicate the company knowingly distributed portions of 11 tainted lots of peanut butter from 2009 through 2012, which included Salmonella Bredeney, the strain identified to be responsible for the recent outbreak.
Multiple items in the facility’s roasting room, packaging room, raw room and picking room were tested positive for Salmonella; including, air ducts, floors, broom bristles, compressor parts, conveyors, vacuums, and equipment handles. Additionally, the FDA found the company failed to clean packaging equipment correctly between raw and roasted peanut processing and found food contact surfaces used to manufacture low-moisture food were constantly wet.
The inspection also found peanut, almond and soy in products that do not contain those ingredients. A problem the company was aware of, according to a notification the company received in May 2011, which detailed a child suffering from anaphylactic shock after ingesting a Sunland almond butter product that contained peanut allergens.
Offenses also included employees failing to handle processing equipment in a way that helped to prevent contamination, failing to clean equipment after processing and a persistent failure of employees to adequately and thoroughly wash their hands after their hands were soiled during processing.
Plant Lacked Adequate Sewage and Waste Disposal System
The report also noted the plant did not have hand washing sinks in the production or packaging areas. Disturbingly, it also listed the plant as not having maintained or adequately installed systems to transport sewage and disposable waste from the plant.
Among other offenses, Sunland failed to store raw materials in a way that prevented contamination and did not take proper steps to keep pests from entering the processing areas.
Multiple food poisoning lawsuits have been filed against the company in relation to the Salmonella outbreak, which began in June and may continue for several more months. Officials relate new cases of Salmonella to the possibility that many consumers may still have contaminated products in their homes, given the long shelf life of the peanut butter.