PORTALES, N.M. (AP) - A peanut butter plant along the New Mexico-Texas border has laid off a third of its 150 workers after federal authorities shuttered the plant.
A salmonella outbreak traced to the peanut butter has sickened 41 people in 20 states.
Millions of pounds of the regions prized sweet Valencia peanuts sit in barns at the Sunland peanut butter plant.
Farmers are worried about getting paid. And residents wonder what toll the shutdown will have on the region’s economy.
The tension boiled over on Monday, when the Food and Drug Administration suspended Sunland’s registration to operate because of repeated safety violations. It came just as the plant was set to resume shelling the bumper crop.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
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.
Many in this flat, dusty and solidly Republican farm town of about 20,000 denounce the FDA’s tactics as unfair and unnecessarily heavy-handed _ and become defensive about the shutdown of the largest private employer in town.
“We had the best crop in years, and then these (expletives) came in and started this,” said resident and local telecomm worker Boyd Evans.
The FDA said inspectors found samples of salmonella in 28 different locations in the plant, in 13 nut butter samples and in one sample of raw peanuts. Inspectors found improper handling of the products, unclean equipment and uncovered trailers of peanuts outside the facility that were exposed to rain and birds. Inspectors also said employees did not have access to hand-washing sinks, and dirty hands had direct contact with ready-to-package peanuts.
The FDA has inspected the plant at least four times over the past five years, each time finding violations. Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, said the agency’s inspections after the outbreak found even worse problems than what had been seen there before.View Entire Story
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