Linkletter Farms is finally back up and running after two months of being at the centre of a large-scale food tampering incident that reached across the Atlantic region.
Gary Linkletter says operations are still only slowly getting back into gear, but he is brimming with excitement to finally see potatoes being packaged in his plant again.
“We got our first load out and we’re just at about a quarter speed… but we are back in business, we’re able to do some orders,” he said Friday.
Linkletter Farms has been virtually shut down since Oct. 2 when an undisclosed number of needles were found inserted into potatoes at the Irving-owned Cavendish Farms plant in New Annan. Production was immediately halted and the RCMP quarantined and searched a total of 300,000 pounds of potatoes.
A voluntary CFIA recall was then requested after consumers in Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia discovered more potatoes from Linkletter Farms with sewing needles inserted into them.
The Summerside potato packing plant hasn’t shipped any potatoes since that time, as the RCMP major crime and forensic identification units have continued their investigation into who perpetrated this alleged criminal act of mischief.
Linkletter, meanwhile, has been focused on getting his plant back up and running.
He has purchased two metal detectors, which have been certified by technicians, and is now running all potatoes in his plant through both detectors before being shipped to market.
“Confidence is very good with one metal detector but it’s almost absolute when you’re passing through two,” he said.
The last two months have been difficult for the Linkletter family and for his company, which has been growing and selling potatoes for almost 50 years.
He had to lay off 20 employees, something he wishes he had not been forced to do in advance of the holidays.
And even though he is not yet packaging at full capacity, Linkletter is just happy to be back in business.
“Those words just put a smile on my face,” he said. “The first time the machinery started up and there was noise down the stairs, it was great.”
He says he has been overwhelmed by the response he has received from the community and from individuals who have reached out to him over this difficult time. The P.E.I. Potato Board has even raised $100,000 to offer as a reward for any tips now, even anonymous ones if they lead to a suspect.
Linkletter says he and his family are touched beyond words at the kindness shown to them by Islanders and wants to thank everyone for their support.
“We just can’t tell people how much we really appreciate everything, because when something like this happens to you, you kind of wonder, ‘Why me? What did I do wrong?’” Linkletter said.
“All these people calling with support and the goodwill, it’s just been like a big hug.”
Six more metal detectors have been ordered and will be in place by the spring, when Linkletter expects his plant to be operating at full capacity once again.