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Salmonella bacteria outbreak still plaguing organic peanut plant

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
Salmonella bredeney, peanut butter, organic, Sunland, recall, Valencia peanut

Early this month a multistate recall was instituted for peanut products manufactured by Sunland, Inc. because of possible contamination with the bacterium Salmonella bredeney. On October 5, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the recall to more than 200 peanut products because they may contain Salmonella bacteria. Sunland, Inc. is the nation’s largest USDA-certified organic processing plant. Ironically, an organic product, which is deemed to be a healthier choice, is involved in the recall.

Sunland is still reeling from the impact of the recall. Operations has ceased at the plant located in the New Mexico town of Portales. The plant remains shuttered for a top-to-bottom scrubbing; however, plant officials are hopeful that they can soon resume production. The recall has affected peanut butter and nut products sold at major retailers around the nation; thus, raising concerns regarding the long-term impact on the industry, particularly in the town of Port. The prized Valencia peanut is grown in the region. It represents only a small percentage of the US massive peanut crop; however, it is preferred for use in natural and organic peanut butter products because of its sweet flavor.

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.

Local growers claim that this year's crop is exceptional, and despite the situation, the town plans to hold its 39th annual peanut festival to celebrate its crop this weekend. Sadly, the celebration will be dampened from concerns that the crop is languishing in drying trailers. “We are very concerned about it,” noted Wayne Baker, a retired peanut farmer and chair of the New Mexico Peanut Growers Association. He added, “The harvest is going on as normal and Sunland is receiving peanuts, but we have got to get the FDA to approve some changes and get going.”

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In late November, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked a salmonella outbreak to peanut butter it produced for Trader Joe’s. Its roasting and processing facilities were also closed and the recall expanded in October to include peanuts and other nut butters after the FDA found salmonella at the plant.

To date, illnesses have only been linked to the Trader Joe'’ product; however, Sunland, which manufactures products for Target, Costco and other major retailers, has recalled everything made in the plant since March 2010: a total of 240 products. The recall affects many peanut butters labeled natural or organic; however, it does not include major brands such as Jif, Skippy, or Peter Pan; thus, there are plenty of other brands on the market to fill the void for customers amid the shuttering of the Sunland plant.

Take home message:
It appears that Sunland, Inc. is a conscientious manufacturer and is doing its best to eradicate any infectious organisms from its facility. Bacteria are ubiquitous organisms that can strike anywhere. Restoration of operations is vital to the survival of the plant and the local economy of Portales, New Mexico.

Reference: Sunland, Inc.

See also:
Peanut butter recall expands to 240 products
Your peanut butter may contain Salmonella bacteria