December 26, 2012
Sunland To Resume Peanut Production Today
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Shelling this year's crop of Valencia peanuts can begin today due to an agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA suspended Sunland Inc., the nation's largest processor of organic peanuts, from manufacturing on November 26, stopping its shelling operations. The company had voluntarily suspended its operations in late September, but after investigations the FDA suspended the company's registration for food manufacturing.
"This consent decree prohibits Sunland from selling processed foods to consumers until it fully complies with the law," Stuart F. Delery, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division, said in a statement after the production halt. "As this case demonstrates, the Department of Justice and FDA will work together to protect the health and safety of Americans by making sure that those who produce and sell the food we eat follow the law."
FDA restored Sunland's food facility registration, giving the peanut sheller its ability to provide popular brands like Trader Joe's with their peanut butter.
Millions of pounds of Valencia peanuts are grown every year in the New Mexico and Texas region that surrounds Portales.
Sunland President Jimmie Shearer said the company will provide additional information to the FDA as it takes steps towards re-opening of the main processing plant. He said Sunland has either corrected problems or provided a timetable for correcting those that remain.
Environmental sampling inside the peanut plant by the FDA showed salmonella in 28 separate locations inside the facility. They also found peanuts exposed to birds and rain, unsanitary equipment and improper product handling.
Sunland is still prohibited under federal consent decree from processing or distributing food until it has complied with all conditions and received written permission from FDA.
The FDA said it has inspected the plant at least four times over the past five years, and each time it found violations.
Sunland said that its agreement came after it provided the FDA with additional information to demonstrate that recommended actions have been taken and required corrective actions are being implemented.
According to Sunland spokeswoman Katalin Coburn, work at the plant will resume the day after Christmas.
Sunland produces a number of products for national grocery stores and retail chains, helping to generate $60 million in the region it grows in each year.