ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An eastern New Mexico peanut butter plant that was shuttered this fall after a salmonella outbreak that sickened 42 people in 20 states has reached an agreement with federal regulators will allow it to start processing a bumper crop of peanuts the day after Christmas.
A consent decree filed Friday in federal court says Sunland Inc., the nation's largest organic peanut butter producer, can reopen if it hires an independent expert to develop a sanitation plan, which then must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Conditions at the plant prompted the FDA in November to for the first time use new authority to revoke the company's operating certificate without a court hearing.
Friday's filing reinstates Sunland's food facility registration. But the company cannot process or distribute food from its peanut butter or peanut mill plants in Portales until it has complied with the consent decree's requirements and receives written authorization from the FDA.
"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. "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."
Sunland said the agreement came after it "provided additional information to FDA to demonstrate that recommended actions have been taken and required corrective actions are being implemented."
Sunland spokeswoman Katalin Coburn said that after the decree was filed, the FDA gave the plant permission to reopen its peanut processing facility while it works on the plan for reopening the peanut butter plant. She said work will resume the day after Christmas.
The Sunland plant was shuttered and hundreds of its products recalled in September and October after the salmonella outbreak was linked to Trader Joe's Valencia peanut butter manufactured at Sunland. The salmonella outbreak sickened 42 people in 20 states this fall.