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FDA Shuts Down Nut-Processing Plant After Many are Sickened with Salmonella

The Food and Drug Association shut down a nut-processing facility in Portales, New Mexico, after it was tied to a nation-wide salmonella outbreak in June of this year. The plant, operated by Sunland Inc., was set to open this week, however the FDA stepped in and put the reopening process to a halt.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the plant produced salmonella contaminated nut butter, which sickened at least 41 people in 20 states, most of whom were children. The nut butter was sold in restaurants and retailers such as Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Whole Foods and Target stores nationwide, including several in Massachusetts, and was pulled off the shelves following the recall.

The recalled Sunland Inc. products were not only jars of peanut butter, but also other nut products the company produces. A complete list of products is available on the FDA’s website.

The plant was ready to re-open after being shut down since September, however the FDA stated that it would only reinstate the company’s food facility registration when it determined that Sunland Inc. implemented procedures to produce safe products. This was the first time the FDA ever used its new registration suspension authority under the Safety Modernization Act. The authority allows the agency to take action when food “manufactured, processed, packed, received, or held by a facility has reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals,” according to the FDA.

After a report issued in mid-November, reviewing Sunland Inc.’s product testing records, the FDA found that the Portales plant may have contributed to the contamination of nut butter products it produced with a strain of the salmonella bacteria and suspended Sunland Inc.’s registration.

In the report, FDA investigators found a number of reasons to shut down the Portales plant. First, investigators found that Sunland employees did not handle equipment, utensils and containers used to hold food properly. They also found that inside the production and packing areas of the plant, there were no sinks available for hand washing, and employees were handling peanuts with their bare hands. The report also found that the raw peanuts used to make products were stored outside the facility, exposed to wildlife and rain. Finally, Sunland had zero records proving that the production equipment was ever cleaned.

Sunland claims it has cooperated with federal inspectors and will do everything it takes to follow correct guidelines and be reopened as soon as possible.

The Sunland nut butter recall follows an increasing trend in the U.S. of contaminated or unsafe food products. Since last year, the number of Americans becoming ill or dying from contaminated food has increased by 44% and approximately 48 million people get sick from eating tainted food each year.

With such a large increase in contaminated food in the U.S. it is extremely important to pay close attention to food recalls. If you or someone you know becomes ill or dies from contaminated food and would like to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney, please contact us at (617) 326-5347.

FDA halts work at nut plant linked to salmonella CNN.com, November 29, 2012