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- Sunland Inc., the nation's largest organic peanut butter processor, resumed operations at its Portales, N.M., plant May 21.
- Company Vice President Katalin Coburn said plant officials are excited to be back after a salmonella outbreak linked to Sunland products last fall caused the plant to be shuttered for months.
- Texas grower Brent Nelson said the closing of the plant caught all parties by surprise.
Among other violations, FDA claims they discovered peanuts inside uncovered truck trailers at the plant that were subject to the open elements and in at least some cases were exposed to bird droppings.
“Just a few days before that these peanuts were laying exposed in the field. Like it or not, that’s part of farming. You can’t control the rain from falling or the birds that fly over a field,” Nelson noted. “It’s been my experience that Sunland is responsive to the farmers who provide them their peanuts, and I know a lot of growers that think this whole business of FDA violations may have been blown out of proportion. Some of the violations may sound worse than they were.”
The closing of the plant has also created a hardship for displaced workers which in turn affected the local economy. The plant is one of the largest employers in Roosevelt County. The Portales City Council recently authorized $150,000 in economic development funds for Sunland to cover some of the costs incurred as a result of its sanitation plan, according to Portales City Manager Tom Howell.
“The purpose of that money was to help them get through requirements of the FDA,” Howell said.
Roosevelt County Community Development Director Doug Redmond, who favored the issuance of economic development funds, says the company now has 100-plus employees back at work and plans on adding an additional 40 employees in the near future.
Coburn says the company is happy to be back in business again to help the community and to meet the needs of retailers who have been anxious to get Sunland's products back on grocery market shelves as soon as possible.
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