This Nov. 27, 2012 photo shows the Sunland Inc. peanut butter and nut processing plant in eastern New Mexico, near Portales, which has been shuttered since late September due to a salmonella outbreak that sickened dozens. The Food and Drug Administration on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, suspended the registration of Sunland Inc., which is the country’s largest organic peanut butter processor. FDA officials found salmonella in numerous locations in Sunland’s processing plant after 41 people in 20 states, most of them children, were sickened by peanut butter manufactured at the Portales, N.M., plant and sold at the Trader Joe’s grocery chain. The company had announced plans to reopen its peanut processing facility on Tuesday after voluntarily shutting down earlier this fall. (AP Photo/Jeri Clausing)
PORTALES, N.M. (AP) — Farmers in a revered peanut-growing region along the New Mexico-Texas border should be celebrating one of the best harvests in recent memory.
Instead, millions of pounds of their prized sweet Valencia peanuts sit in barns at a peanut butter plant shuttered for two months amid a salmonella outbreak that sickened 41 people in 20 states.
Farmers are worried about getting paid for their peanuts, nearly a third the plant’s 150 workers have been laid off, and residents wonder what toll an increasingly contentious showdown between the nation’s largest organic peanut butter plant and federal regulators could ultimately have on the region’s economy.
The tension boiled over when the Food and Drug Administration on Monday said it was suspending Sunland Inc.’s registration to operate because of repeated safety violations, meaning the plant will remain indefinitely shut down as the company appeals the decision. The company had planned to reopen some its operations this week after voluntarily recalling hundreds of products and closing its processing and peanut butter plants in late September and early October.
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