FDA Hails Peanut Food Poisoning Measures, Seeks Similar Drug Powers

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By: Irvin Jackson | Published: November 30th, 2012

Federal health regulators are heralding efforts that they say helped prevent another major food poisoning outbreak, indicating that prompt actions prevented contaminated peanut butter from causing more widespread illnesses.

In a consumer update posted to its website titled “Rapid Response Helps Contain Outreak Linked to Peanut Butter” (pdf), the FDA praised itself and other public health agencies for quickly taking action once salmonella food poisoning cases were linked to peanut butter products made by Sunland Inc.

The FDA shut down Sunland using new powers given to it by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011. The response to the outbreak was the first use of the FDA’s suspension-of-registration power, which the agency said it needed in order to swiftly act against out-of-compliance food manufacturers that pose a danger to public health.

Sunland Inc. peanut butter was linked to a salmonella food poisoning outbreak that surfaced over the summer, sickening at least 41 people in 20 states earlier this year. It resulted in a the recall of about 200 different peanut butter products distributed nationwide.

FDA Under Fire for Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

The statement comes as the agency seeks increased regulatory power over pharmacies, following a recent outbreak of fungal meningitis caused by contaminated steroid injections, which has sickened more than 500 people nationwide, including at least 36 cases that resulted in death.

Documents have shown that the FDA knew about the risk of an outbreak for years, but failed to shut down the New England Compounding Center (NECC), a compounding pharmacy believed to be responsible for the outbreak.

The FDA has said that it lacked the power over compounding pharmacies to act, and argues that it needs new powers of drug enforcement to prevent another tragedy. Some lawmakers and critics of the agency say that it had the power to act, knew there was a danger since at least 2006, and sat on its hands. Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have threatened to block any new powers until the FDA reveals all of the documents detailing its interactions with NECC.

The consumer update regarding the peanut butter food poisoning outbreak touts the FDA’s responsible use of the new powers given to it by the FSMA, and of the coordinated efforts between state and federal agencies in stopping the spread of salmonella illnesses.

“More people would have fallen ill if not for the fast action by federal and state public health agencies,” the FDA wrote.

In late 2008, contaminated products manufactured by Peanut Corporation of America caused a massive food poisoning outbreak, with more than 700 illnesses and at least 9 deaths linked to more than 180 products that contained contaminated peanut products.

The Sunland peanut recall resulted in about 200 different products being pulled from store shelves nationwide because they contained ingredients manufactured at their plant.

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