Food safety advocate and attorney William Marler called on Congress to investigate New Mexico-based peanut and nut butter producer Sunland, Inc. on Thursday. The call came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released records showing that between 2009 and 2012 Sunland had distributed multiple lots of peanut butter and nut butters that had tested positive for Salmonella by the firm’s internal testing program.
“This isn’t the first time a peanut processor has knowingly shipped contaminated product,” said Marler. Internal emails uncovered during an investigation into the 2008-2009 Salmonella outbreak traced to peanuts distributed by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) indicated that the company’s founder and CEO, Stewart Parnell, had acute knowledge that his company was shipping contaminated peanuts.
“In the PCA case, a federal investigation has yet to result in legal penalties for knowingly shipping contaminated product,” Marler added. “Maybe if the government had come down on PCA when the outbreak was fresh in everyone’s mind Sunland would’ve taken notice and made food safety a priority.”
FDA inspection reports show that Salmonella was isolated in the Sunland plant as far back as 2007. The records released yesterday show that FDA inspectors were at the plant in July of 2003, October of 2007, March of 2009, September of 2010 and March of 2011. During its most recent inspection, conducted between September 17 and October 16, 2012, 10 serotypes of Salmonella were isolated at the Sunland plant, including Salmonella Bredeney, the serotype isolated from outbreak victims and peanut and other nut butter products identified as the source of the most recent Salmonella outbreak traced to such products. According to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, at least 41 people from 20 states are part of the outbreak linked to Sunland products.
“While they’re at it, Congressional leaders should put FDA officials on the hot seat to find out why Sunland was able to continue operating with what appears to be a quite dismal food safety record. For that matter, they should put retailers that purchased or co-branded the product—like Trader Joe’s—on the stand to see what they did to assure consumers that the product they were selling was not adulterated,” Marler concluded.