The food world is still reeling from the salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 41 people across 20 states, which was linked to Sunland peanuts that were sold as peanut butter at Trader Joe's and several other supermarket chains. Now, information released late last month by the FDA suggests that Sunland knowingly sold potentially contaminated products going back to 2009 [pdf].
Sunland's internal records, which were reviewed by the FDA, reveal that the company found Salmonella in its peanut and almond butters more than 20 times in the last three or so years. There are myriad other violations as well, for which the site eFoodAlert offers an in-depth rundown.
The FDA's website now links to a long list of inspection reports for Sunland, going back to 2007.
If you're wondering how such a thing could be allowed to happen for so long, you're not the only one. Food safety expert Phyllis Entis, who runs eFoodAlert, asks several pointed questions:
Am I the only one who doesn’t understand what’s going on here?
Where were the company’s customers? Did they never visit the production plant?
Where was Silliker Laboratories, the company’s third party auditor? Did they ever visit the production plant or review the company’s internal lab results?
AND WHERE THE HELL WAS FDA? Why did the agency not review Sunland’s internal lab results and production/distribution records until after the company’s negligence resulted in a food poisoning outbreak?
As of now, there don't seem to be any good answers. These revelations seemingly have done nothing to stop Sunland from reopening its plant, which it announced its intention to do earlier this month. The company reportedly hopes to resume peanut butter production by the end of the year.
Sunland has denied knowingly distributing tainted products on its web site:
"At no time in its twenty-four year history has Sunland, Inc. released for distribution any products that it knew to be potentially contaminated with harmful microorganisms ... In every instance where test results indicated the presence of a contaminant, the implicated product was destroyed and not released for distribution."
An Associated Press report writes that Sunland's New Mexico plants, which are currently shut down, are still receiving shipments of peanuts, and the company still hopes to reopen once given approval from the FDA.