Sunland test production pushed back

Test production runs of Sunland Inc.'s facilities have been pushed back a couple of weeks to mid-April, according to Vice President Katalin Coburn.

She attributes the setback to the continuing installations of equipment and delays in deliveries.

Coburn says Sunland has rehired 85 percent of its laid off workforce and says they will be closer to 100 percent in the coming weeks as they prepare to reopen its nut butter plant that has shuttered since September.

"We're looking forward to starting up in a couple of weeks," said Coburn Monday.

She slated Sunland to be fully operational in late April to early May provided test production run results are satisfactory.

Sunland President Jimmie Shearer added that their products will be back on shelves across the nation almost immediately after successful test production runs.

"We're ready," said an enthusiastic Shearer on Monday.

Sunland, the country's largest organic peanut butter processor, was linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak that included 41 cases in 20 states.

The company restarted some operations the day after Christmas with the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Sunland resumed the shelling of last year's harvest of millions of pounds of Valencia peanuts in late December.

In a month-long investigation conducted by FDA inspectors in the fall, samples of salmonella were found in 28 locations in the plant and 13 in nut butter samples.

As requested by the FDA as part of Sunland's reopening, Sunland was asked to hire an independent expert to help develop a sanitation plan.

Coburn said a few actions they have made recently as part of that plan include the changes and the renaming of Sunland's peanut butter plant to its nut butter plant.

In this facility, Coburn said peanuts will be processed on one line separately from other nuts such as hazelnuts and almonds.

"We now have a dedicated peanut line and a dedicated nut processing line," Coburn said. "That's where we look to start test production."

She added that Sunland has maintained ongoing relationships with its retailers.

"We have been able to maintain good relationships with all of our retailers so overall, we're feeling very positive," Coburn said.

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