The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently suspended business operations at the Sunland Inc. processing plant in Portales, New Mexico. Last month, news spread about a possible salmonella outbreak from peanut butter and peanut butter products processed at the plant. It wasn’t long before the reported cases shot up to 40 people spread throughout 20 states. The problem is that even this information wasn’t enough definitive proof for Sunland Inc. to voluntarily close their doors and fix the problem. Instead, the FDA was forced to step in and use a recently-passed food safety act to protect the public from their further contamination.
As a result of the possible salmonella outbreak, the FDA issued an inspection of the Sunland Inc. processing plant back in September and October of 2012, and what they found was shocking. In environmental samples alone (processing areas, counters and equipment), salmonella was discovered on 28 separate occasions. As you can expect, numerous product samples also tested positive for this dangerous food-borne illness.
You might be surprised to hear that this is the first time the FDA has used the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to suspend the operations of a processing plant. The act first went into effect on January 4, 2011 with the goal of giving the FDA more power over food manufacturers and processing facilities. If one of these plants continued to violate health codes, the FDA could step in and take action to protect the public, which is exactly what happened with the Sunland Inc. situation. Sunland Inc.
Before the FSMA was passed, the FDA would have to spend their time and resources to go to court in order for a processing plant to be suspended. This of course is a long and drawn out process that left the public vulnerable to further illness. In 2011, however, president Barack Obama helped to pass the FSMA as a way for the FDA to bypass the court process.
Now that the Sunland Inc. processing facility is closed, the company is working around the clock to try and decontaminate and clean the area for reopening. They have a long road ahead of them, but according to reports, they’ve been cooperating with the FDA and plan to reopen in the near future. However, they have a long battle ahead of them to not only clean up the facility, but to also regain the trust of their consumers and the merchants who sold their products.