FDA halts operations at peanut butter plant

Associated Press Modified: November 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm •  Published: November 26, 2012
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During a month-long investigation, after the outbreak linked to processor Sunland and to Trader Joe's, FDA inspectors found samples of salmonella in 28 different locations in the plant, in 13 nut butter samples and in one sample of raw peanuts.

The agency also found improper handling of the products, unclean equipment and uncovered trailers of peanuts outside the facility that were exposed to rain and birds.

The FDA said that over the past three years, the company shipped products even though portions of their lots, or daily production runs, tested positive for salmonella in internal tests. The agency also found that the internal tests failed to find salmonella when it was present.

FDA inspectors found many of the same problems — including employees putting their bare fingers in empty jars before they were filled, open bags of ingredients, unclean equipment, and many other violations — in a 2007 inspection. Similar problems were recorded by inspectors in 2009, 2010 and 2011, though government officials didn't take any action or release the results of those inspections until after the illnesses were discovered this year.

In a statement issued earlier this month, Sunland's president and chief executive officer, Jimmie Shearer, denied the company knowingly shipped tainted products.

"At no time in its 24-year history has Sunland, Inc. released for distribution any products that it knew to be potentially contaminated with harmful microorganisms," Shearer said in a statement posted on the company's website. "In every instance where test results indicated the presence of a contaminant, the implicated product was destroyed and not released for distribution."

A separate peanut butter outbreak in 2009 not related to Sunland was linked to hundreds of illnesses and nine deaths.

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Find Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcjalonick

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Online:

FDA updates on Sunland and list of recalled items: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/CORENetwork/ucm320413.htm



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