9 kinds of salmonella found in peanut butter from NM plant

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.