Cumberland Times-News

November 28, 2012

Getting tough

FDA now has power to fight unsafe food plants

Cumberland Times-News

— That the Food Safety Modernization Act has finally given the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a hammer to use against irresponsible food manufacturing facilities became evident this week with the shutdown of a peanut butter manufacturer.

The largest organic peanut butter processor in the country, Sunland Inc., had its registration suspended by the government on “reasonable probability” of causing serious health problems or death.

Sunland, the maker of Trader Joe’s Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter, is blamed for 29 salmonella illnesses in 18 states. The plant voluntarily closed in September but planned to reopen Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

According to the AP, FDA inspectors found that Sunland shipped products that tested positive for salmonella, and that the company also ran tests that failed to find salmonella when it was present. The agency reported the presence of Salmonella in 28 different locations at the plant, in 13 nut butters samples, and in a sample of raw peanuts.

They also reported open bags of ingredients, unclean equipment, employees putting bare fingers into empty jars before they were filled, and trailers of uncovered peanuts exposed to rain and birds outside the facility.

Before the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in 2011, the federal agency would have had to go to court to take action against Sunland. But the new law gives the regulatory agency more leeway in protecting the health of food consumers.

By closing down Sunland until the company can prove it can manufacture food in a safe fashion, the FDA has shown that the government is ratcheting up efforts to put irresponsible manufacturers out of business.