Processing Magazine

U.S. says to avoid pistachios amid salmonella scare

March 31, 2009
Federal food officials are warning Americans not to eat any food containing pistachios because of possible contamination by salmonella. The Food and Drug Administration said central California-based Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., the second-largest U.S. pistachio processor, was voluntarily recalling more than 2 million pounds of its roasted nuts shipped since last fall. Two people called the FDA complaining of gastrointestinal illness that could be associated with the nuts, but the link hasn''t been confirmed, according to a spokesman for the FDA. Officials said the plant decided to shut down late last week. The recalled nuts are a small fraction of the 55 million pounds of pistachios that the company''s plant processed last year and an even smaller portion of the 278 million pounds produced in the state in the 2008 season, according to the Fresno-based Administrative Committee for Pistachios. California is the second-largest producer of pistachios in the world. The FDA learned about the problem when Kraft Foods Inc. notified the agency that routine product testing had detected salmonella in roasted pistachios. Kraft and the Georgia Nut Co. recalled their Back to Nature Nantucket Blend trail mix the next day. The FDA contacted Setton Pistachio and California health officials shortly afterward, in what Acheson called a "proactive move." Cincinnati-based grocery operator Kroger Co. recalled one of its lines of bagged pistachios because of possible salmonella contamination, saying the California plant also supplied its nuts. Those nuts were sold in 31 states. The company is only recalling certain bulk-roasted in shell and roasted-shelled pistachios that were shipped on or after September 1. Because Setton Pistachio shipped bags of nuts weighing up to 2,000 pounds to 36 wholesalers across the U.S., it will take weeks to figure out how many products could be affected, said Jeff Farrar, chief of the Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Public Health. Roasting is supposed to kill the salmonella bacteria in nuts. But problems can occur if the roasting is not done correctly or if roasted nuts are re-contaminated. That can happen if mice, rats or birds get into the facility. California public health authorities have taken hundreds of samples at Setton''s processing facility, but lab results have not yet determined whether salmonella was found at the plant, Farrar said. The food companies'' own tests of the contaminated products isolated four different types of salmonella, but none were the same strain as the one found in the peanuts, the company spokesperson said.