Peanut butter inoculated with Salmonella enterica serovar Senftenberg, S. enterica serovar Typhimurium and S. enterica serovar Tennessee were treated with a 915 MHz microwave with 2, 4 and 6 kW and acid and peroxide values and color changes were determined after 5 min of microwave heating. Salmonella populations were reduced with increasing treatment time and treatment power. Six kW 915 MHz microwave treatment for 5 min reduced these three Salmonella serovars by 3.24–4.26 log CFU/g. Four and two kW 915 MHz microwave processing for 5 min reduced these Salmonella serovars by 1.14–1.48 and 0.15–0.42 log CFU/g, respectively. Microwave treatment did not affect acid, peroxide, or color values of peanut butter.
These results demonstrate that 915 MHz microwave processing can be used as a control method for reducing Salmonella in peanut butter without producing quality deterioration.
Inactivation of Salmonella Senftenberg, Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Tennessee in peanut butter by 915 MHz microwave heating
Food Microbiology, Volume 53, Part B, February 2016, Pages 48–52
In their agreement, ConAgra Grocery, a subsidiary of ConAgra Foods, admitted that its Peter Pan and private label peanut butter products were contaminated with Salmonella, leading to more than 700 cases identified nationally until 2007 by federal health officials.
While no deaths related to the outbreak were reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that “thousands” of other related cases went unreported.
ConAgra will pay a criminal fine of $8 million for a misdemeanor violation of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act — the largest fine ever in a food safety case — and forfeit assets of $3.2 million.
“No company can let down its guard when it comes to these kinds of microbiological contaminants,” said DOJ principal deputy assistant attorney general Benjamin Mizer, in a statement. “Salmonellosis is a serious condition, and a food like peanut butter can deliver it straight to children and other vulnerable populations.”
In February 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC determined that the salmonellosis outbreak could be traced to ConAgra’s products that were made and shipped from its plant in Sylvester, Ga., starting December 2006.
ConAgra ended production at the plant following the announcement and recalled all peanut butter manufactured there since January 2004. “The company admitted in the plea agreement that samples obtained after the recall showed that peanut butter made at the Sylvester plant on nine different dates between Aug. 4, 2006, and Jan. 29, 2007, was contaminated with salmonella,” the Justice Department said.
Testing conducted after the recall also identified the same strain of salmonella in at least nine locations throughout the Sylvester plant, it said.
ConAgra also admitted that it had been aware of some risk of salmonella contamination in peanut butter given the damaged equipment at the plant. In 2004, ConAgra tested the Sylvester plant and found products that were contaminated with salmonella. It identified several possible causes, including an old peanut roaster, a storm-damaged sugar silo, and a leaky roof that allowed moisture into the plant.
“The company did not fully correct these conditions until” the outbreak, the Justice Department said.
Leading food safety practices, including robust testing, new equipment and extensive training, have helped ensure that the plant has made safe and wholesome peanut butter on a daily basis. ConAgra Foods has been recognized as a leader in food safety since that time. The company and its 175 dedicated employees in Sylvester, GA., who make Peter Pan peanut butter products every day, are deeply committed to food safety.
“We did not, and never will, knowingly ship a product that is not safe for consumers. We’ve invested heavily in leading-edge food safety technology and practices over the past eight years, and we are thankful for all of the people who recognize that and are loyal Peter Pan fans,” said Dr. Al Bolles, chief technical and operations officer for ConAgra Foods. “ConAgra Foods took full responsibility in 2007, taking immediate steps to determine the potential causes of and solutions for the problem and acting quickly and definitively to inform and protect consumers. This incident brought to light previously unknown aspects of making safe peanut butter, and we have been passionate about sharing what we learned to help others join us in creating an even safer food supply. We will remain vigilant to maintain the trust we’ve worked so hard to earn from our consumers.”
Peanut butter has been associated with several large foodborne salmonellosis outbreaks. This research investigates the potential of high hydrostatic pressure processing (HPP) for inactivation of Salmonella in peanut butter of modified composition, both by modifying its water activity as well by the addition of various amounts of nisin.
A cocktail of six Salmonella strains associated with peanut butter and nut-related outbreaks was used for all experiments. Different volumes of sterile distilled water were added to peanut butter to increase water activity, and different volumes of peanut oil were added to decrease water activity. Inactivation in 12% fat, light roast, partially defatted peanut flour, and peanut oil was also quantified. Nisaplin was incorporated into peanut butter at four concentrations corresponding to 2.5, 5.0, 12.5, and 25.0 ppm of pure nisin. All samples were subjected to 600 MPa for 18 min. A steady and statistically significant increase in log reduction was seen as added moisture was increased from 50 to 90%. The color of all peanut butter samples containing added moisture contents darkened after high pressure processing. The addition of peanut oil to further lower the water activity of peanut butter further reduced the effectiveness of HPP.
Just over a 1-log reduction was obtained in peanut flour, while inactivation to below detection limits (2 log CFU/g) was observed in peanut oil. Nisin alone without HPP had no effect. Recovery of Salmonella after a combined nisin and HPP treatment did show increased log reduction with longer storage times. The maximum log reduction of Salmonella achieved was 1.7 log CFU/g, which was comparable to that achieved by noncycling pressure treatment alone.
High pressure processing alone or with other formulation modification, including added nisin, is not a suitable technology to manage the microbiological safety of Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter.
In 2009, over 700 people were sickened and nine died from Salmonella Typhimurium linked to peanut paste and butter produced by the Peanut Corporation of America.
An auditor with the Manhattan, Kansas, based American Institute of Baking was responsible for evaluating the safety of products produced by PCA. The peanut company knew in advance when the auditors were arriving. “The overall food safety level of this facility was considered to be: SUPERIOR,” the auditor concluded in his March 27, 2008, report for AIB. State inspectors also found only minor problems.
Samuel Lightsey was the manager of Peanut Corporation of America’s plant in Blakely, Georgia, when an outbreak of salmonella traced to the company’s peanuts killed nine people and sickened hundreds in 2009. Lightsey and three others were later charged with scheming to manufacture and ship tainted peanuts.
Lightsey faces a possible fine of up to $250,000 and maximum prison terms of one to 20 years on each of the seven charges. Prosecutors recommended in a plea agreement that Lightsey serve no more than six years in prison. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Also charged in the case are Peanut Corporation owner Stewart Parnell, his food broker brother Michael Parnell, and Georgia plant quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson.
The indictment unsealed in February 2013 says the company misled its customers about the existence of salmonella in its product, even when lab tests showed it was present. It says the co-workers even fabricated certificates accompanying some of the peanut shipments saying they were safe when tests said otherwise.
Beyond the tragic longterm effects on health for the victims of an outbreak, issues associated with foodborne illness incidents can taint a business for a long time. Jack-in-the-box, Odwalla, Castleberry’s and others may have changed their processes and practices but the stigma from an outbreak can last years. Beyond public perception, internal and external investigations into the causes can continue to impact business for years. And lead to revenue losses, expensive changes and criminal action.
Seven years after a recall of peanut butter made at a Georgia plant, federal investigations are still hanging over the head of ConAgra Foods Inc.
Following the recall, investigators searched the plant. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Georgia and the Consumer Protection Branch of the Department of Justice launched a formal investigation in 2011.
ConAgra (NYSE: CAG) reported today that it spent a total of $25 million in 2012 and 2013 in connection with the investigations.
“We have been and continue to be engaged in ongoing discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice in regard to the investigation,” ConAgra reported today. “We are pursuing a negotiated resolution, which we believe will likely involve a misdemeanor criminal disposition under the Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act.”
Peanuts and peanut-based products have been the source of recent Salmonella outbreaks worldwide. Because peanut butter is commonly used as an ingredient in baked goods, such as cookies, the potential risk of Salmonella remaining in these products after baking needs to be assessed. This research examines the potential hazard of Salmonella in peanut butter cookies when it is introduced via the peanut-derived ingredient.
The survival of Salmonella during the baking of peanut butter cookies was determined. Commercial, creamy-style peanut butter was artificially inoculated with a five-strain Salmonella cocktail at a target concentration of 108 CFU/g. The inoculated peanut butter was then used to prepare peanut butter cookie dough following a standard recipe. Cookies were baked at 350°F (177°C) and were sampled after 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 min. Temperature profiles of the oven and cookies were monitored during baking. The water activity and pH of the inoculated and uninoculated peanut butter, raw dough, and baked cookies were measured. Immediately after baking, cookies were cooled, and the survival of Salmonella was determined by direct plating or enrichment. After baking cookies for 10 min, the minimum reduction of Salmonella observed was 4.8 log. In cookies baked for 13 and 14 min, Salmonella was only detectable by enrichment reflecting a Salmonella reduction in the range of 5.2 to 6.2 log.
Cookies baked for 15 min had no detectable Salmonella. Results of this study showed that proper baking will reduce Salmonella in peanut butter cookies by 5 log or more.
In May, 2013, Sunland announced it was back in production and company officials said their barf-inducing coveted natural and organic butters could be back on store shelves within a month.
By Oct. 2013 they were bankrupt.
Food safety can do that to an operation.
Now, the plant is headed to the auction block.
According to the Associated Press, the reserve price for all bidders in Thursday’s auction is $18.5 million. That’s the amount California-based Ready Roast Nut Co. already has offered to buy the defunct Sunland Inc. plant.
The sale seemed imminent when a bankruptcy trustee backed Ready Roast’s offer. But the Clovis News Journal reports another potential buyer has emerged.
A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge has scheduled a hearing Friday to accept or reject the best bid in the auction.
Officials with Sunland Inc., the nation’s largest organic peanut butter processor, said “ongoing financial and liquidity challenges made it necessary for the company to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code.”
Chapter 7 means the company shuts down and liquidates its assets. According to the bankruptcy filing, Sunland has an estimated $10 million to $50 million in assets, $50 million to $100 million in liabilities and 1,000 to 5,000 creditors.
Sunland reopened last May, but reportedly took a big financial hit from the eight-month closure and lawsuits that followed the salmonella outbreak.
The company had about 100 employees, who were notified Wednesday that the plant was shut down.
Portales Mayor Sharon King lamented the closure, calling it a “very sad day for our community” and noting that Sunland had been in business for decades.
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.
• 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.
“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.
In a 1979 episode of television standout, WKRP in Cincinnati – which anchors many of my personal value choices — Mr. Carlson had to fire beloved former baseball manager Sparky Anderson from his radio hosting gig because he sucked at it.
Sparky didn’t suck at life, or baseball, but he sucked at radio.
Sparky: Derek, this indoor soccer’s a new sport. Could you tell us about it?
Derek: Oh yah. It’s beautiful. It’s soccer played indoors like in a hockey rink. Sort of soccer-hockey.
Sparky: Boy, that’s an interesting combination. What are the rules?
Derek: I don’t know really. I don’t care.
Sparky: I see. How does your team look?
Derek: Well, mostly Venezuelan.
Maybe the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sucks at things.
They need resources, they need people, but if consumers expect them to be the on the food safety travel team, that may be unrealistic.
In Jan. 2009, 691 people were sickened and nine died across 46 U.S. states and in Canada from an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium linked to the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) and led to the recall of over 3,900 peanut butter and other peanut-containing products from more than 350 companies.
FDA went in afterwards and found lots of problems; but nothing before the outbreak.
As details emerge about another Salmonella-in-peanut-butter outbreak from a Sunland plant in New Mexico which has sickened at least 41, people are wondering, WTF?
JoNel Aleccia of NBC reports the Sunland plant, also the largest producer of organic peanut stuff in the U.S., sent potentially tainted lots out the door even after its internal testing found at least nine different types of salmonella in peanut and almond butters, Food and Drug Administration officials said. Two of the 11 lots included the outbreak strain of the bacteria.
The pathogens were also found throughout the peanut plant operated by Sunland Inc. in Portales, N.M., where FDA inspectors found salmonella in 28 environmental samples between mid-September and mid-October.
The company denies this.
The month-long FDA inspection of the Sunland plant that supplied peanut butter, nut butters and other nut products to major retailers including Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Harry and David found dirty equipment and slipshod food safety and cleaning practices.
Specifically, the company failed to clean production and packaging equipment between runs of nuts such as peanuts, which contain allergens. In May 2011, the firm received a complaint that a child had developed anaphylactic shock after eating almond butter that contained peanut allergens, the FDA said.
The 11-page report documents employees improperly handled equipment, containers and utensils, failed to wash their hands and had bare-handed contact with ready-to-package peanuts.
They also noted that the company left trailers full of raw, in-shell peanuts uncovered outdoors, where they were exposed to the elements, including rain and animals.
“Birds too numerous to count were observed flying over and landing on the peanuts in the trailers,” the report finds.
Inspectors found that Sunland’s own internal testing program documented at least nine and up to 13 types of salmonella in peanut butter products the company produced and distributed.
The place was a dump. And apparently little regard for microbial food safety basics.
But do retailers Trader Joe’s and Wal-mart buy from anyone? Did they send their people out to check on the peanutty stuff? Did they rely on some sort of auditor? Where are those reports? And why does FDA always uncover a food safety shitstorm after people get sick? They didn’t. There’s a history going back to 2003 of FDA citing problems with Sunland.