ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A peanut butter plant shuttered by a widespread salmonella outbreak has been given the go ahead to start harvesting a bumper crop of prized eastern New Mexico Valencia peanuts next week under an agreement that ends a tense, monthslong standoff with federal regulators.
A consent decree filed in federal court Friday says Sunland Inc. can reopen its plant in Portales 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, which is the largest organic peanut butter producer in the country, prompted the FDA in November to use new authority for the first time to revoke the company's operating certificate without a court hearing. The action came after the plant was linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened 42 people in 20 states this fall.
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.
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