Feds allow Sunland to resume operations

Sunland President Jimmie Shearer calls Friday's deal with federal regulators to resume some operations next week a Christmas gift.

File photo

Portales peanut company Sunland Inc. is set to open some operations, including the shelling of millions of pounds of Valencia peanuts, the day after Christmas after reaching a deal with the Food and Drug Administration Friday.

The Portales peanut company that had its license yanked after being linked to a widespread salmonella outbreak, will be able to start shelling millions of pounds of sweet Valencia peanuts the day after Christmas.

"We're just excited about operating our shelling plant again," Shearer said. "What a Christmas gift."

Shearer said the actions causing Sunland and the Food and Drug Administration to reach this agreement include providing additional information to prove Sunland has taken the right steps towards reopening.

"We basically corrected all the things they said needed to be corrected and if not, we gave them a timetable that would be acceptable to them," Shearer said.

Tension grew between Sunland's rural home of Roosevelt County and the FDA last month when the FDA suspended Sunland's registration just hours after Sunland announced plans to resume operations.

The action was denounced as unfair and unnecessarily heavy-handed by many in the community, where Sunland is the largest private employer.

But after taking corrective action, Friday's filing reinstated Sunland's food facility registration.

The company was linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened 42 people in 20 states this fall, prompting an FDA investigation.

FDA inspectors found samples of salmonella in 28 different locations in the plant, improper handling of the products, unclean equipment and uncovered trailers of peanuts outside the facility that were exposed to birds and rain.

Although the company regained its registration back, they will not be allowed to process or distribute food from its peanut butter or peanut mill plants until it has complied with a federal court consent decree and receives written authorization from the FDA.

Shearer says the company has hired an independent expert to develop a sanitation plan, a requirement for them to reopen as stated in the consent decree. The expert is a consultant from Washington D.C., according to Shearer.

"It's very detailed, it covers everything," said Shearer about the sanitation plan. "We upped all the standards another degree."

Shearer says he hopes Sunland can start making products and potentially selling them as early as Wednesday.

The peanut butter and peanut processing plant have been shuttered for nearly three months as Sunland sorted its problems out, causing the layoffs of 28 employees.

"We will not be hiring any additional people right now to run (the) shelling plant," Shearer said. "Once the peanut plant is up and running, we will be hiring additional people."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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