WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration found what it called “objectionable conditions” at the Sunland Inc. peanut butter plant in Portales in 2010, two years before the current outbreak of salmonella poisoning linked to Trader Joe’s peanut butter produced there.
The FDA said Friday a recent inspection found salmonella in the plant which produced Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Peanut Butter and many other nut butters and nut products for several large national grocery chains. The Trader Joe’s peanut butter is now linked to 35 salmonella illnesses in 19 states – most of them in children under the age of 10.
Although the illnesses have only been linked to the Trader Joe’s peanut butter, Sunland Inc. has recalled everything made in the plant since March 2010 – a total of 240 products. The company last month recalled 101 products that were made in the plant this year.
FDA has found problems at Sunland before. Agency records show two inspections in 2009 and 2010 found “objectionable conditions” but classified the findings as not meeting the agency’s threshold for action. According to the records, any corrective action on the part of the company was voluntary.
Sunland spokesperson Katalin Coburn said Friday, “Anything and everything that FDA suggests and puts in their report we are required to correct and have done that,” although she added regulations have changed since 2010 to expand the organization’s authority.
Coburn said she did not have direct information about the “objectionable conditions,” and the FDA has not released details on what the conditions were or why the agency visited the plant twice in two years. An FDA spokesman said the agency is preparing to release that information.
An FDA investigation conducted last month after the illnesses were linked to the plant found salmonella in samples taken from various surfaces, officials said. The agency did not release any other details about current conditions at the plant. Washington state health officials also confirmed the presence of salmonella in an opened jar of the Trader Joe’s peanut butter found in a victim’s home, the FDA said.
Now that the investigation has concluded, Coburn said cleanup is under way at the peanut butter plant which halted operations on Sept. 24.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal