The latest salmonella scare, which compelled the FDA this week to warn people away from food containing pistachios, began with the discovery of tainted California nuts in the Chicago area.
The federal Food and Drug Administration is urging consumers to avoid eating pistachio products, noting that California-based Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., the nation’s second-largest pistachio processor, was voluntarily recalling its 2008 crop. The FDA has not linked any illnesses to the positive salmonella reading.
The recall is rooted in routine tests made in Skokie at the Georgia Nut Company, which makes myriad nut products, including Kraft Foods’ Back to Nature brand trail mix. On March 20, a batch of Setton’s pistachios tested positive for salmonella, said Joshua Robbins, a spokesman for the company.
Laurie Guzzinati, a Kraft spokeswoman, said Kraft was notified soon afterward, and on March 23, both Kraft and Georgia Nut said they told the FDA of the tainted nuts.
Also that day, Northfield-based Kraft sent a team of auditors to Setton’s central California plant, Guzzinati said, noting, “Our auditors observed situations where raw and roasted pistachios were not properly segregated.”
A spokesman for Setton said the company suspects that roasted pistachios may have become mixed with raw nuts that could have contained traces of salmonella bacteria.
Roasting is supposed to kill salmonella in nuts, but there’s a potential for contamination if raw nuts come in contact with roasted nuts, food safety experts say.
On March 25, after completing its audit of Setton, Kraft announced a voluntary recall of Back to Nature products containing pistachios. There had been no cases of salmonella reported in connection with the trail mix, though one customer complained of having diarrhea.
Then on Monday, the FDA announced Setton’s recall and warned consumers to be wary of pistachios.
“Our advice to consumers is that they avoid eating pistachio products, and that they hold onto those products,” said Dr. David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food protection. “The number of products that are going to be recalled over the coming days will grow.”
Indeed, Kraft on Tuesday said it is recalling its Planters’ brand pistachio nuts as a precaution. Also Tuesday, Elgin-based John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc. voluntarily recalled pistachio products that are sold under its Fisher brand.
Salmonella, the most common cause of food-borne illness, causes diarrhea, fever and cramping. Most people recover, but the infection can be life-threatening for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
The FDA “is not waiting for a lot of confirmed outbreaks of disease,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “They are acting in a precautionary way and that’s very good—definitely a step forward.”
A salmonella outbreak linked to a Georgia-based peanut plant killed nine people, sickened more than 600 and forced a massive recall by Peanut Corp. of America this year.
Regulators and private companies reportedly missed long-festering problems at Peanut Corp., which was accused of knowingly shipping contaminated peanuts.
By contrast, both private companies and regulators moved quickly and aggressively on the pistachio threat, food safety experts said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Article Source: Chicago Tribune