Sunland aims for full production by end of March

Five months after being at the center of a nationwide recall that shuttered its plant for several months, Sunland Inc. is ramping up for full production by the end of March, according to Vice President Katalin Coburn.

Sunland was linked to a salmonella outbreak in September that sickened 41 people in 20 states.

"We're working furiously to get the plant ready for the test production," Coburn said. "Things are definitely moving in a positive direction."

The test runs will be monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, which suspended Sunland's food processing plant registration in November based on multiple problems, including unsanitary conditions in its peanut butter processing plant.

Sunland is the nation's largest organic peanut butter processor, though it also produces many non-organic products.

She says communication with the FDA has been stellar as Sunland has worked to reopen its processing plant.

Sunland resumed shelling this year's harvest in late December.

Coburn also said the company has also been working with retailers as well as private-label customers to get their products back on the shelves of stores across the nation.

She said they hired back some of the 28 laid-off employees who were let go after the plant had been shuttered for nearly three months last fall while Sunland sorted through its problems. Coburn says Sunland expects to hire everyone back by mid-March.

Since September, Sunland has taken steps to reopen for business including the head-to-toe scrubbing of its plants and hiring an independent expert as requested by the FDA to develop a sanitation plan.

Coburn feels Sunland will be ahead of future FDA regulations, regulations that Sunland board member and New Mexico Peanut Growers President Wayne Baker is worried about.

He said Sunland has been doing the unimaginable to make sure its in compliance with FDA regulations and hopes that they'll be up and running again soon.

"We're just doing everything we can," Baker said.

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