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Sunland Plant Disputes FDA Salmonella Study

A worker spreads out peanuts being unloaded at the Sunland Inc. plant in Portales. The FDA claims its investigators found unclean equipment and uncovered trailers of peanuts exposed to rain and birds. (journal file)
A worker spreads out peanuts being unloaded at the Sunland Inc. plant in Portales. The FDA claims its investigators found unclean equipment and uncovered trailers of peanuts exposed to rain and birds. (journal file)
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Portales’ Sunland Inc. is disputing a Food and Drug Administration report released this week that contends it distributed peanut butters after its own internal testing showed the products were contaminated.

FDA inspections found problems at the plant since 2007, though government officials didn’t take any action or release the results of those inspections until after the illnesses were discovered this year, according to the agency.

Sunland recalled hundreds of nuts and nut butters manufactured since 2010 after one of its products, Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Peanut Butter, was linked to 41 salmonella illnesses around the country in September.

“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,” Sunland CEO Jimmie Shearer said in a statement on the company website Thursday. “In every instance where test results indicated the presence of a contaminant, the implicated product was destroyed and not released for distribution,” he said.

The FDA report said its monthlong investigation in September and October found 28 different samples of salmonella in Sunland’s plant. The agency also found improper handling of the products, unclean equipment and uncovered trailers of peanuts outside the facility that were exposed to rain and birds.

“Investigators found that employees improperly handled equipment, containers, and utensils used to hold and store food,” the report reads.

The FDA said that over the past three years, the company’s tests showed products were shipped even though portions of their lots tested positive for salmonella.

Sunland’s New Mexico plants are currently shut down, but hope to reopen when the FDA gives them approval.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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