By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
It’s been nearly a year since a national salmonella scare closed plants at Sunland Inc., one of the nation’s largest organic peanut butter processors. President Jimmy Shearer said Thursday most issues have been resolved and Sunland is now getting its peanut butter back on store shelves.
“It’s been really busy,” said Shearer as Sunland prepares for the onset of this year’s peanut harvest.
Shearer said peanut butter can now be found on Sunland’s retail store shelves and in the stores of others. He’s working to get products to Sunland’s entire customer base.
Sunland, which sits in the heart of Roosevelt County, had to make changes to its food safety procedures as demanded by the Food and Drug Administration. The company’s products were linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened 41 people in 20 states.
A month-long FDA investigation last fall found salmonella in 28 locations in the plant and in 13 nut butter samples.
The outbreak caused the plant, one of the county’s largest employers, to shut down for months and layoff a large portion of its workforce.
But working with FDA regulators, Sunland developed a sanitation plan and met other requirements to reopen and resume production in December.
“We’re working, we’re making peanut butter. We’re doing what we’ve always done,” said Sunland’s Vice President Katalin Coburn.
Coburn said Sunland has returned all former employees who were available for rehire; a workforce numbering nearly 100 employees now.
Coburn said Sunland continues to work with its customers on getting products to them and has shipped quite a few products already.
“We’re getting back into rotation,” she said.
Shearer said last year’s peanut harvest was the largest harvest ever, producing millions of pounds of sweet Valencia peanuts. This year’s crop, however, is expected to be much smaller.
“We’re down from last year being that we were down for so long,” Shearer said.
He added that Sunland’s shelling plant will reopen next week but it will still be a while before Sunland will make roasted and salted peanuts because it has to move its roaster into another facility.
For now, Shearer says Sunland has its peanut butter and raw peanuts back on shelves.
“We’re working hard to get all (products) back,” he said.