36 sick; New Mexico peanut butter town seeks comeback after massive recall

A 5-year-old girl from the eastern New Mexico county where peanuts are grown and processed for Sunland Inc. is the latest of 36 confirmed Salmonella victims in a national outbreak.

But Sunland, the country’s largest organic peanut processing plant is getting a major scrub down in hopes of getting it back to business after a massive recall of products linked to a salmonella outbreak.

Health and business go together; it’s bad to make your customers barf.

But the competing goals are often played off against each other, rather than a drum circle of inclusiveness.

The New Mexico Health Department said it confirmed the girl from Roosevelt County had been sickened by the same bacteria that had been found in Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Peanut Butter and the Sunland Inc. plant where it was produced.

To date, most cases have been linked to the Trader Joe’s brand. But the health department said the young girl in Roosevelt County — which is some 200 miles from the closest Trader Joe’s store — had eaten multiple peanut products.

Health Department spokesman Kenny Vigil said the girl was never hospitalized and has recovered.

More than 300 products, including peanuts, peanut butter and other nut products processed at the plant, have been recalled.

The recall has impacted peanut butter and other nut products sold at major stores throughout the country, raising concern about the long-term impact on the industry, especially in products grown and processed in Portales, New Mexico.

The region is home to the prized Valencia peanut, representing a small percentage of the nation’s giant peanut crop. It is favored for natural peanut butter products because of its sweet taste.

Sunland closed late September when 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 retailer Trader Joe’s. After the FDA discovered salmonella, the recall expanded in October to include peanuts and other nut butters. Sunland’s roasting and processing facilities were also closed.

Sunland has recalled everything made within their facilities since March 2010.

That’s probably because FDA found some nasty stuff.

The recall affects many peanut butters labeled “organic” or “natural.” It does not include major brands, including Jif, Skippy or Peanut Butter.

Sunland manufactures products for Target, Costco and other major retailers.

35 sick with Salmonella in multistate outbreak of Salmonella Bredeney linked to peanut butter manufactured by Sunland

There’s been endless recalls related to the Salmonella-in-Sunland peanut butter outbreak, but we’re not recall.net.

Instead, it’s yes another failure of whatever system people come up with – inspections, audits, buying pressure – to actually protect public health.

Salmonella in peanut butter is nothing new, but seems to be more common; probably because with each outbreak, epi-types moves peanut butter up on their list of suspects.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports a total of 35 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney have been reported from 19 states.

Eight ill persons have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

63% percent of ill persons are children under the age of 10 years.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with Sea Salt, manufactured by Sunland, Inc. of Portales, New Mexico, is a likely source of this outbreak.

On October 12, 2012, Sunland, Inc. expanded its ongoing recall to include raw and roasted shelled and in-shell peanuts. FDA testing has found the presence of Salmonella bacteria in raw peanuts from the peanut processing facility. 

On October 13, 2012, FDA analysis confirmed that environmental samplesshowing the presence of Salmonella in Sunland’s nut butter facility match the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney.

Salmonella in Sunland peanut butter – again (the repetition is really boring and the soundbites meaningless)

Having lived in Brisbane for a year, I can testify to the range of fantastical insects and rodent-like creatures.

Beginning in April 1996, some 500 people across Australia were stricken with Salmonella that made its way into peanut butter.

At first, investigators focused on chicken; that chickens carry Salmonella has been worn into the public’s food safety conscious for decades. But as cases of Salmonella increased across the country and after questioning the sick and the vomiting, an unlikely food source emerged: peanut butter.

In the 1996 Australia outbreak, researchers first found the same genetic strain of Salmonella in peanut butter from the homes of some of the sick (unlike fresh produce, the long shelf-life of peanut butter provides an advantage for disease detectives). Because the manufacturer retained samples for shelf-life tests, the peanut butter was found to contain the same strain of Salmonella, as did the roasted peanuts from a single supplier.

After six months of investigation, Australian researchers came up with a theory: the roasting company had moved and separated the roasted peanuts with an auger, a drill-like machine with a spiraling blade that could lift piles of peanuts, that had been contaminated with mouse feces.

Peter Wood, senior lecturer in microbiology at Queensland, University of Technology, Brisbane, was quoted as telling the American Society of Microbiology in 1999 that, “The auger was only used four times because it proved not to be as time-saving as first thought,” and the machine had been kept in the company tool yard. During that time, eastern Australia was in the throes of a plague of mice. The rodents nested everywhere, including the tool yard, where their droppings contaminated the auger. When the auger was brought in to the plant, it was washed down but Wood said it was not sanitized before it was used on Jan. 10, 1996. Salmonella from the auger mixed with the peanuts, and contaminated the system.

Salmonella is commonly associated with the feces of birds and animals, has been found to survive in soil in almond orchards, and could be introduced at a multitude of stages in the peanut butter-making process. Although processing normally eliminates contamination, several studies following the 1996 Australian outbreak have revealed that the high fat content of peanut butter can actually protect individual bacteria during the heating process.

Similarly, in 2006, Cadbury in the U.K. recalled 1 million candy bars after tentative links with Salmonella cases stretching over 6 months. A leaky pipe in the production facility may have been the cause. Maintenance and sanitation, two departments integral in food safety system success, appear to have failed in both outbreaks.

Additional outbreaks involving ConAgra (2007) and Peanut Corporation of America (2009) further demonstrated the vulnerability of an invulnerable foodstuff.

Now, 29 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney have been reported to PulseNet from 18 states linked to Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter.

The peanut butter was made by Sunland, Inc and manufactured between May 1, 2012 and September 24, 2012.

What’s worse is that at the same time, CBS reports food manufacturers in Georgia may be dodging a first-of-its-kind law requiring that they inform state food inspectors when their products test positive for contamination, according to an audit of the state’s food inspection service.

An audit released this summer offers a combination of anecdotal and statistical evidence suggesting the so-called “red flag law” was not strictly followed after it was implemented in 2010. The state adopted the law after a deadly salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds more was traced back to a filthy southwest Georgia peanut producer. The crisis put a big dent in the state’s peanut industry, then valued around $2.5 billion annually.

Guess they never heard of that in New Mexico, where Sunland is based, and brags about a bunch of audits resulting in a big thumbs up.

Anyone can talk a good food safety game; and since most food safety is faith-based, the pronouncements from on high are treated with reverence by the consuming public.

But the data just isn’t there.

And if it is, companies and growers need to start making it public until this whole food safety thing goes off into some sort of golden plates religion.

Keep the faith.

Salmonella Bredeney outbreak update: Sunland, Inc recalls lots of nut butter products

Peanut butter is one of the staples in our house. With a four-year-old who won’t eat much beyond bread, pasta and hummus, peanut butter is one of the protein sources we count on for growth and development. But it’s faith-based risk management wherever we buy it.
There isn’t much I can do to reduce the risk at home. I have to hope that whomever made it is effectively reducing the chance that Salmonella gets into their plant – and if it does, that they have some sort of validated kill-step and their sanitation crew is paying attention while cleaning and sanitizing lines and equipment.

On Friday the keen public health folks in Pennsylvania put out some information about a cluster of Salmonella Bredeney illnesses linked to a private-label Trader Joe’s peanut butter. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Saturday they are investigating 29 illnesses going back to June 8, 2012. And Illnesses that occurring after August 29, 2012 might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported.

According to CDC, 22 of the ill individuals are under 18, and the median age is 7. I guess lots of other kids eat peanut butter.

Trader Joe’s recalled the stuff Saturday and today, the supplier, Sunland Inc have recalled all peanut and almond butter products produced since March – including products packed under Target’s Archer Farms brand.

29 sick with Salmonella linked to Trader Joe’s peanut butter; why is Penn. going public and others aren’t?

Now would be the usual time for some consumer education group to issue yet another jackass advisory, this time about how consumers should cook their peanut butter, or choose it with care, or something else they have no control over.

It is food safety education month, don’t ya know.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health today advised consumers that Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with sea salt may be related to a multi-state outbreak of salmonella.

The department is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health officials in several states to investigate the outbreak. Nationally, there have been 29 cases of illness with two cases reported in Pennsylvania.

Trader Joe’s has voluntarily removed the product for sale from its stores; however, consumers who have the product in their homes should discard it and should also be aware that this product is sold online through other retail outlets.

Additionally, the department advises anyone who recently consumed Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with sea salt and then became ill to consult their healthcare provider, local health department, or call the Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH.

Where did this peanut butter originate? Does hipster fave Trader Joe’s audit their suppliers? Who was the auditor?

Nothing yet on the Trader Joe’s website.

Will it be salmonella-free? ConAgra Foods launches new line of peanut butter spreads

By March 2007, salmonella in Peter Pan peanut butter had sickened 628 people in 47 states and caused the company to shut down its Sylvester, Georgia, manufacturing facility; the contamination was likely due to a leaky roof and faulty sprinklers.

Last week, ConAgra Foods announced the launch of a new line of natural peanut butter spreads from its Peter Pan brand.

The three no-stir varieties are made with 100% natural ingredients and contain no high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, trans fat or preservatives.

Hopefully, or scientifically, they won’t contain any salmonella.

Lost control of process, lousy training; Minnesota firm fined after listeria in peanut butter recall

Mike Hughlett of the Star Tribune writes that Parkers Farm, a Coon Rapids food manufacturer, has been fined $1,900 for food safety lapses after an extensive recall of peanut butter, cheese and other products in January.

The recall from such stores as Cub, Rainbow, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Whole Foods and Hy-Vee was prompted by tests that found listeria bacteria in finished Parkers Farm’s products. It led to a temporary shutdown of the company’s plant.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that Parkers Farm was cited for selling adulterated food.

The state also found that the firm lost control of its manufacturing process and failed to adequately train and supervise workers, said Michael Schommer, a department spokesman.

Parkers Farm also must reimburse the state $46,000 for lab testing connected to the recall.

No illnesses were reported at the time of the recall, which involved 12 products.

Will PB&J as a hedgehog boost Jif sales?

An 8-year-old Wisconsin girl is heading to New York City next week to compete for a $25,000 college scholarship in a national peanut butter competition for her sandwich shaped like a hedgehog.

Jif peanut butter announced Tuesday that Alexandra Miller’s sandwich created in the image of a hedgehog received enough votes in an online competition last month to earn her one of five finalist spots in the Jif Most Creative Peanut Butter Sandwich Contest (the Jif website totally sucks and I can’t find the picture; it’s also quite sexist; here’s a hedgehog, right).

The recipe, dubbed The Happy Hedgehog, places 1 tablespoon of Jif Creamy Peanut Butter and 1 teaspoon of Smucker’s sugar-free red raspberry preserve between two slices of whole wheat bread. It’s cut into a circle, with the edges pressed together to seal it. Ten pretzel sticks form the hedgehog quills, and almond slivers create ears with raisins for eyes and a Bugle chip for a nose. The hedgehog is complete with raspberry fruit strip feet, and green apple slices with peanut butter piped on top for grass.

Will the gimmick help sales?

Americans bought 41.8 million pounds of jarred peanut butter in the four-week period ending Feb. 21 – 13.3 percent less than in the same period the previous year, research firm Nielsen reported Tuesday.

The period’s sales were the lowest of any in the three years Nielsen has tracked the U.S. food, drug, and mass merchandisers segment, which includes Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest retailer.

Executives said last month that they were seeing weakness in Jif sales because of the outbreak, even though Jif was not affected. The company ran ads in more than 100 papers and aired national consumers saying the Jif brand is safe.

But that safety data is not publicly available. The best food producers, processors, retailers and restaurants should go above and beyond minimal government and auditor standards and sell food safety solutions directly to the public. The best organizations will use their own people to demand ingredients from the best suppliers; use a mixture of encouragement and enforcement to foster a food safety culture; and use technology to be transparent — whether it’s live webcams in the facility or real-time test results on the website — to help restore the shattered trust with the buying public.

Natural Grocers defends itself against salmonella

Founded on the belief that "health should not be expensive," Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage grinds its own peanut butter in-store using only domestic, U.S.D.A. certified organic peanuts.

In a statement addressing Natural Grocers’ connection to the outbreak of salmonella in Peanut Corp. of America peanuts, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner of Vitamin Cottage Heather Isely says,

"We are a relatively small, family-owned company that only sells carefully screened natural and organic products, and we work hard to source our products domestically because we believe in the quality controls in place in this country. We – among others – have been hurt by this one unscrupulous supplier…"

The company may have learned the hard way that natural and organic products are not invincible to foodborne pathogens.

Elsewhere in the statement, Isely says,

"[W]e trusted our government and industry food inspection process, which usually works extraordinarily well."

Since January 30, the fresh ground peanut butter made in Vitamin Cottage stores has contained peanuts from a new supplier, Hampton Farms.

"To further reassure our customers," Isely states, "we are now testing each lot of the new peanut butter stock for salmonella. We are working to find even more ways of keeping our customers safe."

Way to be proactive… now that you have to.

Peanut Corp. president urged shipping tainted nuts

It’s as bad as it gets.

Early reporting from today’s U.S. Congressional oversight and investigation subcommittee hearing where Peanut Corp. of America President Stewart Parnell was forced to appear and is expected to take the Fifth Amendment and not testify, depicts a company focused on profits rather than food safety.

E-mails between Parnell and Sammy Lightsey, manager of the company’s Blakely plant, were released as part of a congressional hearing that started at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

• In one e-mail, Lightsey wrote Parnell discussing positive salmonella tests on its products, but Parnell gave instructions to nonetheless “turn them loose” after getting a negative test result from another testing company.

• In another e-mail, Parnell expressed his concerns over the losing “$$$$$$” due to delays in shipment and costs of testing.

• Parnell in another company-wide e-mail told employees there was no salmonella in its plants, instead accusing the news media of “looking for a news story where there currently isn’t one.”

On Jan. 19, Parnell sent an e-mail to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, pleading with the agency to let it stay in business.

He wrote that company executives “desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money.”

Other revelations underpinning the Salmonella outbreak:

• The Georgia Department of Agriculture conducted two inspections of the company’s Blakely, Ga. plant in 2008, but did not test for salmonella on its own on either occasion — despite an internal agency goal to conduct such tests once a year.

• The company’s largest customers, including Kellogg’s, engaged contractors to conduct audits, but they did not conduct their own salmonella tests.

*The FDA did not test for salmonella at the plant, despite the 2007 salmonella outbreak traced to the Con-Agra plant about 70 miles from Peanut Corp. of America’s Blakely plant.