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FDA issues warrant to inspect snack company for salmonella

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 09-Apr-2009

FDA authorities finally served an inspection warrant on a New Jersey snack manufacturer on Wednesday 18 days after it refused to recall products containing peanuts supplied by the Peanut Corporation of America.

The PCA produced peanut products that were found to be contaminated with salmonella in January, leading to one of the biggest product recalls in US history. The resultant salmonella outbreak originating at its Blakely, Georgia plant has caused 691 reported illnesses across 46 states and has contributed to at least nine deaths.

Westco Fruit and Nut Company refused to recall its peanut-containing products at the request of the Food and Drug Administration on March 23 or to submit distribution documents when the FDA requested them on March 26.

Companies are required by law to provide distribution documents to the FDA on request, but the FDA does not have the authority to force the company to initiate a recall.

Regarding the inspection warrant, the FDA's acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs Michael Chappell said: “FDA's enforcement action against Westco Fruit and Nuts is an appropriate step toward removing potentially harmful products from the marketplace, especially when, as in this case, a company is unwilling to share information FDA needs to ensure food safety.”

The FDA said that Westco received three shipments of oil roasted salted redskin jumbo peanuts between November 19 and December 30 last year from PCA's Georgia facility. The company used them as an ingredient in its trail mix and mixed nut products produced between November 19 and early February 2009, at which point New Jersey officials initiated an embargo action at Westco’s distribution facility to prevent further deliveries of potentially contaminated nuts.

Westco did not respond to calls from FoodNavigator-USA.com.

The PCA recall has prompted a rash of proposed legislation to strengthen FDA powers, including the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act, which would require food companies to submit detailed food safety plans, give the FDA the power to order product recalls, and allow it greater access to company records.

Its current lack of authority means that all of the more than 3000 peanut-containing products that have been recalled due to potential salmonella contamination have been withdrawn voluntarily.

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