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Shelling at Sunland OK’d: Processing Could Soon Follow

In what is being called a Christmas gift, shelling of this year’s crop of Valencia peanuts can begin tomorrow in Portales, NM.

Sunland Inc., the nation’s largest processor of organic peanuts, won permission to resume its shelling operations in a Dec. 22 agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With assistance from a Washington D.C.-based food safety consultant, Sunland might be able to resume all operations shortly.

FDA suspended Sunland’s registration for food manufacturing on Nov. 26, in the first exercise of new authority granted to the agency by Congress under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). With the permission to begin shelling, FDA restored Sunland’s food facility registration.

Sunland had voluntarily suspended operations in late September..

Beginning with the recall of a popular Trader Joe’s brand peanut butter, all other products and brands produced by Sunland were associated with a 20-state Salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 42 people.

Millions of pounds of Valencia peanuts grown in the New Mexico-Texas growing region that surrounds Portales now need shelling, a process Sunland was ready to resume when it lost its registration.

Sunland President Jimmie Shearer said in addition to resuming peanut shelling, the company will provide additional information to FDA as it takes steps toward eventual re-opening of the main processing plant. Shearer said Sunland has either corrected problems or provided a timetable for correcting those that remain.

Sunland is the largest employer in Roosevelt County, NM, and the shutdown has not been popular in the area. Shearer said permission to resume shelling was “a Christmas gift” as 28 laid off people are that much closer to going back to work.

Environmental sampling inside the Portales peanut plant by FDA inspectors found 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. Shearer told local media he is hopeful all those conditions can be met this week.

© Food Safety News
  • husna

    Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to the wonderful contributing writers/staff/ at FoodSafetyNews.com 🙂

    Birds are beautiful and play a significant role in nature, however, their presence at a food processing facility/eatery can be a public health concern.

     The health risks associated with their droppings/presence  around the buildings not only result in an “accumulation of bird manures”, but exposes the susceptible populations/equipment to hazards that causes food poisoning, fungal infections, Encephalitis, Avian Influenza, West Nile Virus (crows are the culprits) etc.

    The following documents are an interesting read on how facilities can control their presence to benefit its consumers.



    • Tim Mitchell

      Flocks of Pigeons, Doves and Starlings have been out of control for some time around Portales.  The county managers solution to birds roosting in trees around county courthouse and creating a significant poop mess was to have the trees cut down a few years ago…I was outraged at this stupid solution…  They also ran them off from few remaining trees left in downtown area with firecrackers in recent times.  Unfortunately the Portales area is a new home to numerous large scale CAFO Dairies that relocated to the area from California starting in the mid 90’s and peaked by 04.  The rise of these gigantic Factory Dairy Farms and the out of control birds go hand in hand.  As I personally witnessed as it happened over time.  The birds needed to be culled and nobody was willing to make that happen.  But since the Sunland news broke I have been finding birds dead by the hundreds all over the place… so somebody is poisoning them.   Rats with wings are a threat to our health and this tragedy was something that should have been prevented.   I have been photographing peanut trailers covered with pigeons for twenty years now.  I had been predicting this for some time and surprised it took this long.  The lack of a skilled  Environmental Sanitarian on staff at processing facilities like Sunland is also a problem.  Quality Assurance as it once was need to be brought back into plants like Sunland.  Most people charged with QA today have no clue as to what their job really is all about.  The position of Environmental Sanitarian is extinct and removed from our vocabulary for the most part.  I know these things because I’m a retired Environmental Sanitarian whom was born and raised on a peanut and cotton farm right out side Portales.

  • husna

    I am truly sorry to hear that birds are being poisoned to prevent their presence at the facility. Environmental Sanitarians at the local health care agency or the local/National environmental group can be a very good source of contact if trappings don’t work as per the links in the documents that I have posted.