Sunland peanut butter plant closure angers New Mexico town

As the Salmonella in Sunland peanut butter outbreak that sickened 42 people in 20 states draws to a close, and as government types say their quick action averted a much bigger crisis, the people of Portales, New Mexico are pissed the sheriff showed up.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says 42 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney were reported from 20 states.

• 28% of ill persons were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported; and,

• 61% percent of ill persons were children under the age of 10 years.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration praised itself in a press release, saying more people would have fallen ill if not for fast action by federal and state public health agencies, although some are openly wondering if fast is two months after the FDA inspection that lead to the revoking bit, and two years after the last inspection found the place a bit of a dump.

But, like the XL-E. coli O157 debacle in Alberta last month, the bigger issue seems to be jobs, jobs, jobs.

“We had the best crop in years, and then these (expletives) came in and started this,” said resident and local telecomm worker Boyd Evans.

“Peanuts is, like, everything here,” said local shopkeeper Brittany Mignard.

Plant officials said they were blindsided by the FDA’s suspension on Monday. Just hours before it was announced, the plant had announced plans to start shelling the bumper crop on Tuesday. Plant officials said they had notified the FDA last week of their plans to reopen the processing operations while waiting for approval to resume making peanut butter.

The FDA said inspectors found samples of salmonella in 28 different locations in the plant, in 13 nut butter samples and in one sample of raw peanuts. Inspectors found improper handling of the products, unclean equipment and uncovered trailers of peanuts outside the facility that were exposed to rain and birds. Inspectors also said employees did not have access to hand-washing sinks, and dirty hands had direct contact with ready-to-package peanuts.

The FDA has inspected the plant at least four times over the past five years, each time finding violations. Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, said the agency’s inspections after the outbreak found even worse problems than what had been seen there before.