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.