The New York Personal Injury Blog

Salmonella Peanut Butter Update: FDA Closes Plant

Remember that peanut butter recall from about two months ago? Sunland, Inc., which is the third largest producer of organic peanut butter in the United States, voluntarily closed down after 41 people in 20 states were sickened by the tainted peanuts. Though the recall initially covered Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter, it spread to dozens of other brands produced by Sunland as well, including house brands for Target, Safeway, and Whole Foods.

Now, on the day Sunland was planning to reopen its plant, the FDA used its emergency power to shut the plant down indefinitely. This is the first time the authority, granted as part of a 2011 food safety law, has been used, reports The Associated Press.

Under the old law, the FDA would have been required to go to court to obtain an order to halt operations at the plant. Now, the FDA can suspend a plant's registration (and thereby force closure) when food manufactured at the plant has a "reasonable probability" of causing serious health problems or death.

What's causing the concern? After all, this was only one salmonella outbreak. Spinach seems to be recalled every other day.

According to the FDA's inspections, the plant has a long history of being absolutely gross. During the recent month-long inspection, FDA personnel found salmonella in 28 different locations in the plant, 13 nut butter samples, and in a sample of raw peanuts.

The inspectors also found unclean equipment, improper handling of the products, and uncovered trailers of peanuts that were exposed to rain and birds. Yummy. Similar issues were documented in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

It gets worse too. According to the FDA, Sunland has shipped products over the past three years despite finding traces of salmonella in internal tests. Those same internal tests also failed to find salmonella in other samples when they should have.

For those amongst the forty-one people sickened by Sunland, the FDA's findings could help their case greatly. The heart of a negligence case is a finding that the negligent party's conduct was subpar compared to their peers. Considering the FDA's drastic actions and the numerous failed inspections, proving that part of the case should be relative simple.

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