WASHINGTON – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday seized records that could help officials find products associated with salmonella and remove them from stores.
U.S. Marshals executed the FDA's inspection warrant at Westco Fruit and Nuts two weeks after the Irvington,N.J.-based peanut packager declined to tell the agency where its products were shipped.
Westco ignored a formal records request issued March 26,three days after the company refused to recall products the FDA says could contain contaminated peanuts.
“The records will show how the products were packaged and where the products were distributed,” FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said Thursday in an e-mail.
The documents will help FDA officials locate products containing peanuts from the Peanut Corp. of America,which has been blamed for a salmonella outbreak that has sickened about 690 people since September and killed nine.
Westco owner Jacob Moradi said the company received three shipments of peanuts from the Peanut Corp.,two of which were sent to retailers. The FDA asked Westco on March 23 to recall possibly contaminated peanuts,mixed nuts and trail mix.
Moradi refused to recall the products or provide distribution information,saying in a March interview that he first wanted proof that his peanuts contained salmonella.
The FDA lacks authority to demand a recall but in a formal warning on March 23 cautioned consumers against eating Westco foods.
But the FDA could provide no specific information about labels or products that could be contaminated,indicating only “peanuts in various size/packaging configurations” and those used “in a variety of mixed nut products and trail mix.”
Jill Hollingsworth,vice president for food safety at the Food Marketing Institute,said in March that without specific information such as product names or a list of retailers that received Westco nuts,the warning would have little effect.
The Food Marketing Institute,which helps retailers develop food-safety policies,doesn't know how retailers have responded to the warning,spokesman Bill Greer said Thursday. He said the large number of products makes it difficult to track retailers' actions.
Michael Chappell,FDA's acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs,said in a press release issued Wednesday that the legal action against Westco was a step toward identifying possibly dangerous products and removing them from the market.
“The FDA uses all appropriate legal means necessary to obtain information and fully investigate firms or individuals who put the health of consumers at risk,” Chappell said.
Marshals and FDA officials were on-site at Westco for about two hours while company managers located the records,after which marshals turned the documents over to FDA,New Jersey U.S. Marshal Jim Plousis said.
He said a third shipment of peanuts from the Peanut Corp.,which was not sent to retailers because New Jersey health officials issued an embargo,remains at Westco headquarters. The peanuts will remain there while the FDA seeks authority to have them destroyed,Plousis said.