Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Feds Sue Peanut Butter Maker Responsible for Salmonella Outbreak

UPDATE:   U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson of the District of New Mexico has signed a consent decree imposing requirements on Sunland Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of peanut products linked to an outbreak of Salmonella Bredeney, to keep potentially harmful products from entering the marketplace,

The U.S. government  asked a federal court to issue a permanent injunction against Sunland Inc., the New Mexico-based company whose peanut butter was the source of a multistate Salmonella outbreak this fall.

If the government is successful, Sunland will not be able to receive, process, package or distribute product until it has developed a plan for operation that complies with federal health standards.

The company has been prohibited from selling goods since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suspended its food facility registration on November 26, 2012.

The agency made this move after discovering multiple sanitation violations at the plant during an investigation following the Salmonella Bredeney outbreak linked to Sunland products that sickened 41 people in 20 states this fall. Several environmental samples collected at the peanut butter plant tested positive for Salmonella, as did five samples of finished product. Two of these finished products were carrying the outbreak strain of the bacteria.

FDA also found that the company had knowingly released contaminated product onto the market between 2009 and 2012.

“Your facility distributed at least a portion of eight lots of peanut and almond butter consisting of multiple brands manufactured between March 01, 2010 and September 2012, after composite testing of those lots revealed the presence of Salmonella,” notes FDA in its letter of suspension, addressed to Sunland’s CEO and President, Jimmie Shearer. “Specifically, when composite testing of a lot was positive for Salmonella, individual containers of product from the positive tested lots were re-tested and portions, or all, of these lots were distributed based on the re-test (non-composite) testing.”

While its license is suspended, the company cannot sell or import product within the U.S. This measure, however, is only temporary, and does not prevent Sunland from continuing to manufacture foods.

If the government wins its case against Sunland – filed in New Mexico District Court Thursday – the manufacturer will be prohibited from any form of operation until FDA determines that it is in full compliance with federal safety standards and no longer has the potential to release harmful product onto the market.

While Shearer has not commented on Thursday’s suit, he has denied FDA’s claims that his company knowingly sold contaminated product.

“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 wrote in a statement on the company’s website November 15.

The company expressed its disappointment in its suspension on November 27, the day after receiving FDA’s letter.

“The agency’s order suspending Sunland’s registration on November 26, 2012 was unexpected and the company is disappointed by this development.  Sunland’s goal remains the same—to take all appropriate measures for the safe processing and handling of raw peanuts in its shelling plant and the safe production of nut butter products in its peanut butter plant.”

The company has not yet issued a response to the government’s lawsuit.

© Food Safety News
  • Ben Mark

    FDA also found that the company had knowingly released contaminated product onto the market between 2009 and 2012. If this is the case, the company also knew about the risk for the health and life of the consumer, correct?! So what’s the difference between shooting with a gun and maybe hitting some people and they get injured or killed and what this company has done. For me, injuring and killing people with food is the same. Sick is sick and death is death!

  • MrMcFritters

    So, a consent decree means the parties come into court and ask the judge to bless an agreement they have negotiated.  This is not adversarial, and  I’m not sure that really comes through in this report.

    In any event, this means that the government and Sunland have worked out their differences, and the path is clear to get Sunland back in the peanut butter business.  The most significant thing is that it appears from the FDA press release that  Sunland may resume shelling peanuts under their current system and those peanuts may be moved to processors (including Sunland’s peanut butter operation) even though they carry some kind of bacterial load.  In this instance, the FDA is willing to depend upon a kill step at the next stage of processing to deal with salmonella issues.

    This is in contrast to the almond recalls, where the kill step was moved to the sheller, and in contrast to the practice of the pecan industry.

    Moreover, the question still remains in this recall, as in the PCA recall:  What, in fact, was the root cause of the salmonella problem?  Without that answer, and that answer being public, how does the FDA, the industry, or the public know that this won’t happen again?  Sunland will hire an expert to revise their sanitation plans, the FDA will sign off on it, and the changes will likely remain in a black box.

  • texasnutshellers

    This is really informative post and I personally would like to
    appreciate the efforts. We are also dealing in same field hence found this
    informative to add in our process also. Once again thanks for your post.