FDA: Recall of Pistachios Far From Over

8:01 AM, Apr 9, 2009   |    comments
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The recall last week of 2 million pounds of pistachios because of concerns about salmonella contamination has been expanded, and federal officials say more recalls of foods containing pistachios are on the horizon.

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, the California company that is the nation's second-largest processer of pistachios, originally had recalled all of its pistachios harvested since September.

The recall was expanded this week to cover Setton's entire 2008 crop, except for raw in-shell pistachios. Most pistachios sold in stores are roasted.

Setton spokeswoman Fabia D'Arienzo said she did not know how many pounds of pistachios were involved in the expanded recall.

"This is going to resemble the peanut recall in that products are going to be added every day as companies discover they used Setton pistachios," says Caroline Smith DeWaal of the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's going to take a while for the dust to settle."

Products are still being recalled that contained peanuts or peanut paste produced by the Peanut Corp. of America, the processor tied to a salmonella outbreak this year that sickened almost 700 people.

No illnesses from pistachio consumption have been reported. The salmonella was detected in testing by an Illinois foodmaker that buys from Setton.

Setton had been processing raw and roasted pistachios on the same production lines without adequate cleaning between uses, says David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for foods, adding: "Not a good idea." A Setton official said earlier that roasted pistachios may have picked up salmonella from contact with raw nuts.

Federal and state inspectors have found salmonella in the plant, including on machines used to feed pistachios through the production line.

"There were a number of other factors that demonstrated a lack of microbiological control in the facility," Acheson says.

The FDA is telling consumers and industry to not use any pistachios or foods with pistachios unless the agency can confirm that the products do not contain nuts recalled by Setton. In addition to selling in the USA, Setton sold to Canada, Korea, Hong Kong, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Norway, Ukraine and Ecuador.

Setton did not respond to detailed questions, but Acheson says it's his impression that the company is "really busting to try to clean up the facility."

The FDA has fast-tracked research into one possible solution. The chemical propylene oxide was proven an effective pasteurization method for almonds in 2004 after salmonella outbreaks in almonds alerted growers and producers to the risk of bacterial contamination.

There is no proven process in pistachios for using propylene oxide, but FDA has a contract with the University of California-Davis to create one and hopes to have at least initial information within a month, Acheson says.

Customers can call Setton Pistachio at (888) 228-3717 for more information.


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