By Betty Hallock
8:43 AM CST, November 27, 2012
Flexing its new enforcement muscle from a 2011 food safety law, the Food and Drug Administration on Monday shut down operations of the largest organic peanut butter processor in the country after discovering salmonella, the Associated Press said.
The FDA halted production at Sunland Inc.'s New Mexico plant after 41 people in 20 states were sickened by peanut butter from the plant, sold at Trader Joe's grocery stores.
The food safety law gave the FDA authority to suspend a company's registration — preventing production and distribution — when food made there has a "reasonable probability" of causing serious health problems or death.
A Sunland spokeswoman didn't have immediate comment on the suspension, according to the Associated Press. Sunland had hoped to sell peanut butter again by the end of the year, a spokeswoman said before the FDA's announcement Monday.
The company now has the right to a hearing and is required to prove that its facilities are clean enough to start production again.
Following Sunland's massive peanut butter recall in late September, the FDA found samples of salmonella in 28 locations in the plant, in 13 nut butter samples and in one sample of raw peanuts. The Associated Press said that inspectors also found improper product handling, unclean equipment and uncovered trailers of peanuts outside of the plant that were exposed to rain and birds.