The Food and Drug Administration has suspended production by Sunland Inc. -- the country's largest organic peanut butter maker -- after finding salmonella in its New Mexico plant.
The FDA used its expanded enforcement authority under 2011's Food Safety Modernization Act to suspend Sunland's registration, for the present shutting down all of its food making and distribution operations.
Sunland was the source of an organic peanut butter sold under a Trader Joe's private label, which was linked to salmonella illnesses among about 40 people across 20 states this past fall. It also sells peanut butter and nut butters to other major grocery chains.
During a subsequent investigation, the FDA, now empowered to suspend a company's registration when food made or stored there has a "reasonable probability" of causing serious health problems or death, found samples of salmonella in 28 different locations in the plant, in 13 nut butter samples and in one sample of raw peanuts, reported Associated Press.
Sunland had voluntarily closed its plant after the September outbreak, but had planned to reopen it this week. Now, it will need to prove to the FDA that its facilities are clean enough to reopen, according to AP.
In a press statement, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a senior member of the committee responsible for funding the FDA and a leader in helping pass the food safety act, called the FDA's suspension of Sunland's registration "good news for consumers." However, she added that she is disappointed that it took the FDA so long to act in this case.
"Time is of the essence when the public health is at stake and I expect in the future the FDA will act immediately to protect consumers,” DeLauro said.