WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration found numerous food safety violations during an inspection of Sunland Inc.’s plant in Portales, N.M., that may have allowed peanut butter that contained Salmonella to be distributed by the company.
The investigation led to an extensive recall as contaminated peanut butter product infected 41 people from 20 states with Salmonella Bredeney.
The F.D.A. said that between June 2009 and August 2012 the company distributed or cleared for distribution portions of 11 lots or daily production runs of peanut or almond butter after its own testing program identified the presence of at least one of nine different Salmonella types in these lots. Two of the lots showed presence of the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney. The F.D.A. also found the presence of Salmonella in 28 environmental samples with 3 of the samples showing the presence of the outbreak strain.
The F.D.A. found numerous specific violations during its investigation. The violations included employees improperly handling equipment, containers and utensils. Employees handling peanut products wiped gloved hands on street clothes and at other times failed to wash hands or change gloves. There were no hand washing sinks in the production or packing areas, and employees had bare-handed contact with ready-to-package peanuts.
Additionally, there were no records documenting the cleaning of production equipment. Bags used to store peanuts were not cleaned despite being used for both raw and roasted product. A leaking sink in a washroom caused water to puddle up on the floor, and the plant is not built to allow floors, walls and ceilings to be cleaned adequately. Raw materials also were exposed to potential contamination with raw, in-shell peanuts stored outside the plant in uncovered trailers where birds landed and rain fell, making an ideal growth environment for Salmonella. Facility doors also were open to the outside, potentially allowing pests to enter.
The F.D.A. said it is currently evaluating Sunland’s response to the F.D.A.’s observations.