While a government report released this week revealed that Sunland, Inc. knowingly shipped peanut and almond butters that had tested positive for Salmonella, the company adamantly denies that these findings are true. The Portales, New Mexico-based nut and nut butter producer underwent a government inspection this fall after its peanut butter was named as the source of a multistate Salmonella outbreak that sickened 41 people. The results of that inspection were published Wednesday on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website. In its report, FDA writes:
Since 2009, your firm has distributed lots of peanut butter and nut butters that were positive for Salmonella. The following is a list of products since 2009 that have been manufactured by your firm, have tested positive for Salmonella by your firm’s internal testing program, and were at least partially distributed by your firm.
Following this paragraph is a list of 21 almond and peanut butters that were released for distribution after testing positive for Salmonella. But on Thursday, the day after the report was published, Sunland released a statement in which it claims it has never knowingly released contaminated product. “At no time in its twenty four year history has Sunland, Inc. released for distribution any products that it knew to be potentially contaminated with harmful microorganisms,” says Jim Shearer, the company’s CEO and President, in the statement. According to Sunland, whenever a sample of product tested positive for a contaminant, that product was destroyed. The statement continues:
The Company has followed internal testing protocols that it believed resulted in the isolation and destruction of any product that did not pass the test designed to detect the presence of any contaminants. In every instance where test results indicated the presence of a contaminant, the implicated product was destroyed and not released for distribution. The Company believed at all times that its response was sufficiently robust such that any product which might be contaminated was isolated and destroyed.
A search of FDA’s recall archive reveals that no Sunland products were recalled after being released to the market between 2009 and 2011. The first recall from Sunland listed on FDA’s website is this year, when the series of recalls linked to the Salmonella Bredeney outbreak began. Between September 24 and October 12, Sunland recalled over 300 products, including peanut butters, almond butters, shelled nuts and in-shell nuts – for potential Salmonella contamination. During its post-outbreak inspection, conducted between September 17 and October 16 of this year, FDA also notes that it found Salmonella in five samples of product that company testing had found to be free of Salmonella. Above its list of the five products, FDA writes, “During the current inspection, the following samples of finished products were collected from your firm by FDA and tested positive for Salmonella. The products below were not identified as being positive for Salmonella by your firm.” Sunland says it has submitted a point by point response to FDA’s Form 483 – the form on which FDA records “inspectional observations” – issued after the inspection. “We believe that drawing any inferences much less conclusions about the Company’s practices based solely on the observations as set forth in the Form 483 without considering the Company’s response would be wholly premature and unduly prejudicial to Sunland,” says Shearer.