For the first time ever, the Food and Drug Administration in late November used its authority — granted by the Food Safety Modernization Act — to effectively shut down a company, citing major food safety infractions.
Portales, N.M.-based nut processor Sunland Inc., is prohibited from shipping product pending a series of corrective measures. The company’s peanut butter was linked to a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Bredeney infections that sickened 42 people in 20 states.
The action drew praise from lawmakers and food safety advocates.
“The FDA’s announcement it has suspended Sunland’s food facility registration is good news for consumers,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement.
The plant’s significant problems seem to justify the measure, said David Acheson, former FDA associate commissioner for food protection and partner in Leavitt Partners, Washington, D.C.. According to the FDA, the agency can take action when food from a facility has a reasonable probability of causing serious health consequences or death.
“We hope food manufacturers take note — clearly the FDA is not going to hesitate to use its new authority to shut down plants that are churning out contaminated product and putting Americans at risk of illness or death,” Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement.
Many also took the opportunity to urge the FDA to publish more food safety regulations as soon as possible.
Politics may have had a hand in stalling FDA regulations covering preventive controls, produce safety standards, imports, and recalls, Smith DeWaal said.
“But now that the elections are over the administration should release these rules and bring the new food safety law into full force,” she said.
At least a portion of eight product lots of nut butter that Sunland Inc.’s own testing program identified as containing salmonella was distributed by the company to consumers, according to the FDA. Also, in September and October, the FDA found the presence of salmonella in 28 environmental samples and in 13 processed nut products and a sample of raw peanuts. Four of the peanut butter product samples showed the presence of Salmonella Bredeney, according to the FDA.