Processing Magazine

Pistachio warning could signal food safety shift

April 1, 2009

According to the Associated Press, It could take weeks before health officials know exactly which pistachio products may be tainted with salmonella, but they''ve already issued a sweeping warning to avoid eating the nuts or foods containing them. The move appears to indicate a shift in how the government handles food safety issues -- from waiting until contaminated foods surface one-by-one and risking that more people fall ill to jumping on the problem right away, even if the message is vague. Officials wouldn''t say if the approach was in response to any perceived mishandling of the massive peanut recall that started last year, only that they''re trying to keep people from getting sick as new details surface about the California plant at the center of the pistachio scare. Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., the second-largest pistachio processor in the nation, recalled more than 2 million pounds of its roasted pistachios. Suspect nuts were shipped as far away as Norway and Mexico. One week after authorities first learned of the problem, they still had little idea what products were at risk. As federal health inspectors take swabs inside the plant to try to identify a salmonella source, a whole range of products from nut bars to ice cream and cake mixes remain in limbo on grocery shelves. Company officials said they suspected their roasted pistachios may have been contaminated by salmonella-tainted raw nuts they were processed with at the hulking facility. Roasting is supposed to kill the bacteria in nuts. But problems can occur if the roasting is not done correctly or if roasted nuts are re-exposed to bacteria. The firm sells its California-grown pistachios to giants of the food industry such as Kraft Foods Inc., as well as 36 wholesalers across the country.