Prominent food safety advocates praised the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for using its newly granted authority Monday to suspend the registration of Sunland Inc., the nation’s largest organic peanut butter producer and the company tied to a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 41 people in 20 states.
At the same time, the FDA and the Obama Administration received criticism from those same sources for delays in finalizing languishing portions of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) since its passing almost two years ago.
On Tuesday, politicians and consumer interest groups including Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Pew Charitable Trust’s Food Safety Campaign Director Sandra Eskin and the Center for Science in the Public Interest expressed their approval of FDA for using its suspension authority for the first time since the passing of FSMA in January 2011.
“Congress gave the FDA this authority in the Food Safety Modernization Act so it could protect the public from unsafe food being produced in facilities like this and I am pleased to see them act,” DeLauro wrote in a statement. “Americans should be able to buy a jar of peanut butter – or anything else – without worrying that it will sicken them or their children.”
With its FDA registration suspended, Sunland will not be allowed to sell its products anywhere in the U.S., including in its home state of New Mexico.
Speaking with Food Safety News, Eskin also praised FDA’s move, but added that preventative rules in FSMA that are stuck awaiting implementation could have allowed the FDA to suspend Sunland before any illnesses occurred.
“This is reactive. More than 40 people have gotten sick from eating a contaminated product,” Eskin said. “In light of that the FDA has shut them down, and that’s really really good, but it would be excellent if we could have shut them down based on prevention-based food safety measures.”
Before FSMA, the FDA required a court order to stop companies from selling food, Eskin said. Acquiring one took time, making it a largely ineffective approach to preventing outbreaks.
Having halted its own operations after expanding its voluntary recall in early October, the company planned to restart shelling peanuts on November 26 — a plan it outlined in a letter to the FDA on November 20. The FDA issued the suspension on the 26th, a move that Sunland called unexpected and disappointing in a statement on its website Tuesday.
“During the last two months Sunland has been working with experts as well as with FDA, analyzing data, and developing and implementing proposed corrective actions in order to be in a position to reopen first the shelling plant and then the peanut butter plant. These plans were submitted to FDA in our response to the inspection observations,” the statement read.
“Sunland expected that any agency concerns with its plans would be part of the ongoing dialogue with the agency,” the statement continued.
The company added that it was continuing to work with the FDA to accomplish whatever necessary to safely begin operations in its peanut mill as soon as possible.© Food Safety News