The plant's nearly 150 workers all remain employed, she said, working to scrub and upgrade the facility. And she said the peanut harvest continues, with the crop being stored in drying trailers until the plant gets back up and running. Coburn said peanuts store well, as the once yearly harvest provides peanuts for production throughout the entire year.
"The plant is being torn down as it was, and when it is put back together it will include many new pieces of equipment and improved controls," Coburn said.
Coburn said experts are still trying to pinpoint how the contamination occurred.
"We have had extensive, inclusive processes that are designed to prevent anything getting into commerce that can possibly be harmful," she said. "The entire investigation is centered on exactly where there may have been a mistake, where signs were not properly interpreted. And analyzing that data is what is taking so long."
Peanut butter was identified by the FDA as a high-risk food after a 2007 outbreak that sickened more than 400 people who ate peanut butter processed at a ConAgra facility in Nebraska. ConAgra officials blamed moisture from a leaky roof and a faulty sprinkler system for mixing with dormant salmonella bacteria in the plant.
After that outbreak, the FDA stepped up investigations of peanut facilities.
As part of that process, problems had been found previously at the Sunland plant in Portales. FDA records show two inspections at the plant in 2009 and 2010 found "objectionable conditions," but classified the findings as not meeting the agency's threshold for action. According to the records, any corrective action on the part of the company was voluntary. But details of the objectionable conditions or why the agency visited the plant twice in two years were not released.
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