Salmonella and Food Safety

The Food and Drug Administration has recently released news that the same New Mexico plant responsible for a salmonella outbreak that sickened 35 people in 19 states was cited for "objectionable conditions" in an inspection two years before. The tainted food produced there, Trader Joe's Valencia Creamy Peanut Butter, was recalled by Trader Joes on September 20. Texas and California saw the most cases of salmonella poisoning and hospitalization (five apiece); most of the victims were children under the age of 10.More about product liability.

The outbreaks of salmonella were confined to the Trader Joes peanut butter, but the New Mexico-based Sunland Inc. has recalled everything made in its plant since March of 2010, some 240 products. Last month, Sunland recalled 101 products that were manufactured in the plant this year. On two separate inspections, in 2009 and 2010, the FDA found "objectionable conditions" there, but reported the findings as not meeting the agency's threshold for action; the FDA has not yet stated what was objectionable, or why the agency visited twice inside two years. A spokesman for the FDA said this information is forthcoming.

The FDAs investigation into the Sunland plant last month confirmed that the salmonella outbreaks originated there, through testing environmental samples of various surfaces. Besides Trader Joes peanut butter, the plant also produces many other nut butters and nut products, sold in several large national grocery chains. Peanut butter is an excellent host for the salmonella bacteria, which causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 hours to 72 hours after infection. Children, the elderly, and anyone else with a comprised immune system is most prone to infection. Fortunately, no one has died from this particular outbreak.

One woman affected, Brandi Henson, is suing Trader Joes; her four year old son ate peanut butter Henson purchased at a Trader Joes store in Shrewsbury, Mass, and was extremely sick for five days, followed by a month of discomfort. Massachusetts health officials positively linked the salmonella to the peanut butter.

The list of products Sunland recalled includes many labeled organic or "all natural." Recalled items include peanut butters, almond butters, cashew butters, tahini, and blanched and roasted peanut products. Whole Foods Market, Target, Safeway, Costco, Fresh & Easy, Harry and David, Sprouts, Heinen's, Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, and Giant Food all pulled their Sunland Inc. products as part of the recall. As of this post, Sunland has not respond to requests for comment.