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Cracking Down: FDA Shuts Peanut Butter Plant Linked to Salmonella Outbreak

The agency used new enforcement powers for the first time to close the Sunland factory in New Mexico.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that it has blocked food distribution from the Sunland Inc. peanut butter plant in New Mexico whose products were subject to a wide recall in recent months because of salmonella contamination.

It is the first time the agency has used its new enforcement powers since being granted the authority in a 2011 food safety law.

The various types of Sunland peanut butter products – sold under several brands by major food retailers, including Trader Joe's, Safeway and Whole Foods – had been part of a voluntary recall that began in September and later was expanded. The FDA action announced Monday is a mandatory order.

The company's peanut butter products have been "linked to an outbreak of Salmonella Bredeney that has sickened 41 people in 20 states," the FDA said.

The voluntary recall began after salmonella was detected in a lot of Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter, which had an SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) number 97111, according to the FDA. Only certain lots were affected by the recall.

Sunland is the nation's largest processor of organic peanut butter products, the AP said. Sunland's peanut butter products are not exclusively organic. 

The FDA order – which suspends the registration of the plant in Portales, NM, and prohibits it from distributing food for sale – marks the first time the agency has invoked its new authority to suspend the registration of a food production facility, the FDA said. The authority was granted under the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama in January last year.

Sunland had ceased operations at the plant and intended to restart Tuesday, in hopes of resuming sales of peanut butter products by the end of this year, the Associated Press reported.

Sunland officials said they were surprised by the federal order, are cooperating with the FDA and hope to be back in operation soon, the AP reported.

The FDA said the widespread illnesses "coupled with Sunland’s history of violations led FDA to make the decision to suspend the company’s registration."

FDA inspections at the plant in September and October found salmonella in "28 environmental samples (from surfaces in production or manufacturing areas) and in 13 nut butter product samples and one product sample of raw peanuts," the agency said.

The FDA also cited Sunland's own testing results showing salmonella in 11 product lots of nut butter between June 2009 and September 2012.

What do you think about the FDA shutting down the processing plant? Will the agency's new authority ensure food safety? Tell us in comments.

Dan Mattingly November 30, 2012 at 12:38 PM
How in the world do you equate shutting down a peanut plant with Obama. The temporary shutdown to clean the plant and find the source of the bacteria was the right thing to do. It is not a total, permanent shut down. Yes, the Hispanic workers will not be paid during this time, but it is because of gross mismanagment of the company that has threatened the entire health of this nation with thier greed and it because the owners have total disreagard for their workers. Get a grip!
Diego Rose December 03, 2012 at 06:43 AM
Mariana Zuelsdorf wrote,"Thank goodness they shut it down. Salmonella poisoning is horrid and can cause death. Sunland officials were 'surprised' at the FDA? Yea, right". They were surprised Mariana, you see this is one of the first times the FDA has had the ability to go in and shut down anything. You can credit Senate Bill S510 for this "wonderful public safety measure". Please spend sometime and research this bill and what it spells out. You may have different thoughts about the government taking care of you. In fact, if you don't have different thoughts about the government taking care of you, I might really wonder about you???? FOOD for thought..........
Bil Paul December 03, 2012 at 06:57 AM
I returned two jars of peanut butter to Costco after I got a card from them in the mail advising me to do so. Peanut butter or peanuts themselves can also have some cancer-causing growths in them. From what I've read, conditions at that plant were pretty alarming.
Diego Rose December 05, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Even if I wanted to shop at the Coach outlet stores, I will never if that is the way they think they should inundate readers with their advertisements. It's just rude.
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt December 05, 2012 at 03:35 AM
This is how conservatives think. A business allows its product to sicken and kill people, and when the FDA, under a mandate conferred to it by Congress (not the executive), shuts them down, conservatives attack Obama and howl about "destroying jobs." It's a pathology, people. There's nothing rational or reality-based about conservatism is America anymore. It's just a bunch of rabid, howling lunacy.

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