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Originally published Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 4:29 PM

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Feds, shuttered N.M. peanut-butter plant reach deal

Sunland, an organic peanut-butter producer, has been given the go-ahead to reopen its plant in Portales if it hires an independent expert to develop a sanitation plan, which then must be approved by the FDA. The company was shut down due to a widespread salmonella outbreak.

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A peanut-butter plant shuttered by a widespread salmonella outbreak has been given the go-ahead to start harvesting a bumper crop of prized eastern New Mexico Valencia peanuts next week under an agreement that ends a tense, months-long standoff with federal regulators.

A consent decree filed in federal court Friday says Sunland can reopen its plant in Portales if it hires an independent expert to develop a sanitation plan, which then must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Conditions at the plant, which is the largest organic peanut-butter producer in the country, prompted the FDA in November to use new authority for the first time to revoke the company's operating certificate without a court hearing. The action came after the plant was linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened 42 people in 20 states this fall.

Friday's filing reinstates Sunland's food-facility registration. But the company cannot process or distribute food from its peanut-butter or peanut-mill plants in Portales until it has complied with the consent decree's requirements and receives written authorization from the FDA.

Sunland said the agreement came after it "provided additional information to FDA to demonstrate that recommended actions have been taken and required corrective actions are being implemented."

Sunland spokeswoman Katalin Coburn said work will resume the day after Christmas.

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