The Food and Drug Administration has officially suspended production at Sunland Inc., a large manufacturer of peanut butter, nut spreads and hundreds of other nut-based products distributed in grocery stores throughout the United States.
According to the Los Angeles Times, peanut butter produced by the New Mexico-based plant and sold at the Trader Joe’s grocery chain has been linked to a widespread salmonella outbreak responsible for the sickening of 41 people in 20 states. Suspension of Sundland’s registration, which prevents the company from producing or distributing food, became effective as of Monday.
Just one day before the FDA’s announcement, a spokeswoman told the Times that the company hoped to be selling peanut butter again by the end of the year.
Peanut butter production at the plant had been under close watch since September, when the FDA issued a limited recall of certain batches of Joe’s brand Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter Made With Sea Salt. The recall expanded in subsequent weeks to include everything that came out of Sunland’s nut butter production facility between March 1 and Sept. 24 of 2010.
After Monday’s announcement, Sunland Inc. has the right to a hearing, but must prove to the FDA that its facilities are clean enough to reopen.
It was just two years ago that President Barack Obama signed a bill into law giving the Food and Drug Administration the authority to shut down food producers in the name of public health. Before the food safety law was enacted, the FDA would have had to go to court to suspend a company's registration.
Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, suggested to the Times that the ability to suspend a registration is a major step forward for the agency.
"Consumers can be assured that products will not leave this facility until we determine they have implemented preventive measures that are effective to produce safe products," Taylor said.
Sunland is the nation's largest organic peanut butter processor, though it also produces many nonorganic products. In addition to Trader Joe’s, the company sold hundreds of peanut products to many of the nation's large grocery chains including Whole Foods, Safeway, Target and others.