Tuesday, October 23, 2012

NM peanut capital at heart of national recall

The country's largest organic peanut processing plant is scrubbing its facilities top to bottom and hopes to get back in production soon after a massive recall of scores of products linked to a salmonella outbreak. The recall has affected peanut butter and nut products sold at major retailers around the country, raising concerns about the long-term impact on the industry especially in products grown and processed in the flat, dusty eastern New Mexico town of Portales. The region is home to the prized Valencia peanut, which represents just a small percentage of the nation's massive peanut crop, but is favored for natural and organic peanut butter products because of its sweet flavor. This year's crop is exceptional, growers say, and the town is set this weekend to celebrate at its 39th annual peanut festival. But the festivities are likely to be overshadowed by anxiety as the crop is piling up in drying trailers while the Sunland Inc. facility linked to the outbreak remains shuttered for a top-to-bottom scrubbing. "We are very concerned about it," said Wayne Baker, a retired peanut farmer and chair of the New Mexico Peanut Growers Association. "The harvest is going on as normal and Sunland is receiving peanuts, but we have got to get the FDA to approve some changes and get going." Sunland, which operates the country's largest USDA certified organic peanut processing plant, first closed its peanut butter plant late last month when the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked a salmonella outbreak to peanut butter that it produced for Trader Joe's. Its roasting and processing facilities were also closed and the recall expanded this month to include more than 300 peanut and other nut products after the FDA found salmonella at the plant. On Friday, New Mexico health officials reported a 5-year-old girl from the Portales area who they said had consumed multiple peanut products was confirmed to have been sickened by the same bacteria found at the plant, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 36 in 20 states. Though most of the illnesses have only been linked to Trader Joe's product, Sunland Inc., which manufactures products for Target, Costco and other major retailers, has recalled everything made in the plant since March 2010. The recall list does not include major brands like Jif, Skippy or Peter Pan, meaning there are plenty of other brands on the market to fill the void for customers amid the plant's shutdown...more

No comments: