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FDA Shuts Down Operations at Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Plant

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Photo by Krista Simmons/LAist
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Back in September, the country was a bit skeeved out by a massive peanut butter recall from New Mexico's Sunland packing plant, which was the main provider of Trader Joe's peanut butter. According to the AP, the packing plant was shut down Monday by the FDA.

"During a month-long investigation, after the outbreak linked to processor Sunland and to Trader Joe's, FDA inspectors found samples of salmonella in 28 different locations in the plant, in 13 nut butter samples and in one sample of raw peanuts. The agency also found improper handling of the products, unclean equipment and uncovered trailers of peanuts outside the facility that were exposed to rain and birds."

Monrovia-based Trader Joe's voluntarily recalled its Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter in September, offering refunds to those packages potentially exposed to salmonella. Then in October, the recall was expanded to include raw and roasted peanuts from not only Valencia, but Sunland, Natural Value, the Nut Shop, and Treasured Harvest.

41 people in 20 states, most of them children, were sickened by peanut butter manufactured at the plant in Portales regardless of the recall, and after careful inspection of the plant, the FDA suspended has Sunland's registration. The suspension will prevent company from producing or distributing any food til further notice.

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But could this all have been prevented? The scary thing is, FDA inspectors found many of the same aforementioned issues. Says the AP:

"FDA inspectors found many of the same problems — including employees putting their bare fingers in empty jars before they were filled, open bags of ingredients, unclean equipment, and many other violations — in a 2007 inspection. Similar problems were recorded by inspectors in 2009, 2010 and 2011, though government officials didn't take any action or release the results of those inspections until after the illnesses were discovered this year."

Reps from the FDA said that they were finally able to take action thanks to the new the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), "the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years, [which] was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it."

Politics set aside, we're happy there's one less food out there we have to worry about killing us.