(Jan. 12, 9:50 a.m.) Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., has promoted a packing operations veteran to head its U.S. and overseas packinghouses.

Billy Pritchett, who has worked for Brooks since 1991, has been promoted to vice president of operations. He will manage Brooks’ Belize operations and Homestead packing and distribution facilities.

The biggest part of Brooks’ operations is in Belize, where the company grows and packs its Caribbean Red and Caribbean Sunrise papayas that are grown under the Fruta Bomba and Belize Fruit Packers Brooks subsidiaries.

Pritchett said Brooks has made significant progress this past year recovering from the Category 5 Hurricane Dean, which damaged Brooks’ Belize operations in August 2007.

“Continually making high marks in food safety audits, recovering from devastating hurricanes, becoming the largest importer of papayas into the U.S., that is a short list of what Brooks has accomplished in the past, and it’s only a precursor to what we’ll do in the future,” Pritchett said.

Craig Wheeling, Brooks’ chief executive officer, said in a news release that Pritchett was crucial to Brooks’ 2008 recovery and growth.

Brooks’ Homestead operations handle the packing and North American distribution of more than 28 tropical fruits and vegetables. In addition to papayas, Brooks also grows, packs and ships trademarked Florida Slimcado avocados, starfruit, Mexican limes and Jamaican Uniq Fruit.