Peanut Butter Plant Closes: Why Did The FDA Suspend Sunland Operations? [VIDEO]

By Staff Reporter on November 27, 2012 6:23 PM EST

Sunland
Sunland Inc. peanut butter products are suspended by the FDA following violations and Salmonella risks. (Photo: Sunlandinc.com)

The Sunland Inc. peanut butter processing plant of New Mexico was shut down yesterday when the FDA determined that unsafe practices in the plant has caused a salmonella outbreak that has affected victims nationwide.

Two matters make this story extremely important. First, the Sunland Inc. plant is the largest organic peanut butter processor in the United States. Second, this is the first time the FDA is utilizing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a new law granted last year that grants FDA the power to shut down a plant without going to court.

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According to the FDA, the Sunland Inc. plant is linked with a serious salmonella outbreak that caused 41 people to get sick in 20 states. What's more, the FDA also said that "Sunland's history of violations led FDA to make the decision to suspend the company's registration."

Violations at Sunland reach as far back as June 2000, when its products were first tested positive for traces of Salmonella. What's more, Sunland even distributed a portion of eight products that were tested Salmonella positive between March 2010 and September 2012.

A number of variables are the cause of the violations but some are seriously unacceptable. According to the FDA, employees at Sunland fail to wash their hands, improperly handle equipment, and also fail to provide records of equipment cleaning. What's more, the building house does not have hand washing sinks despite the workers' habit of bare-handed contact with goods.

The FDA also continued to not that large bags used to store peanuts were not properly cleaned or maintained despite being used for both raw and roasted nuts. A leak at the bathroom also caused still water to accumulate on the plant floor. In addition, the plant was not properly designed to allow the floors, walls, and ceilings to be properly cleaned.

Finally, raw peanuts were also stored outside the plant in uncovered trailers and were sometimes exposed to rain. What's more, it's exposure also causes it to attract wild animals including birds to peck at the goods. The FDA says this handling of food allowed the perfect environment for Salmonella to grow.

Because of the mounting evidence of improper handling of foods, the FDA applied the FSMA for the first time in history. The Act authorizes the agency's ability to suspend manufacturing and the license of a plant when "reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals, and other conditions are met."

Naturally, Sunland Inc. will appeal. However, the processing license can only be returned when the FDA deems the company safe.

Learn more about the incident from ABC's exclusive video below:

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