by Marion Nestle
Apr 2 2009

Pistachio recalls: what they mean

The interesting part about this latest recall – now 2 million pounds and involving 74 products so far – is how the Salmonella contamination was discovered.  According to a lengthy account in USA Today, a small nut company in Illinois, Georgia’s Nut, routinely tests for Salmonella and found the bacteria in nuts purchased from Setton Pistachio of California.  Georgia’s Nut recalled products distributed in the Chicago area.  This company also produces a trail mix for Kraft Foods.  It notified Kraft Foods, which also promptly recalled its products.

I’m guessing that Georgia Nut must follow a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) plan.  HACCP is a science-based food safety procedure that requires analyzing where contamination might occur in production processes (hazard analysis), taking steps to prevent contamination at those critical control points, and using pathogen testing to make sure the steps were followed and the plan is working.

HACCP, as I keep complaining, is only required for meat and poultry production on the USDA regulatory side (where is it poorly enforced) and for sprouts, fresh juices, seafood, and eggs on the FDA side.  The producers of everything else are supposed to follow Good Manufacturing Processes, which are considerably less rigorous and, as we saw with the peanut butter recalls (more than 3,800 products from 200 companies) and their health consequences (nearly 700 sick, at least 9 deaths), clearly do not work.

How about HACCP for all foods?  Worth a try?

April 3 update: USA Today reports that Setton Pistachio has not yet issued its own recall (note: this is a good reason why the FDA needs the authority to order recalls), that its California plant passed recent inspections with relatively minor violations, but that its sister plant on Long Island is a mess.  USA Today also reports that Setton Pistachio has had positive tests for Salmonella for months.  What did the company do with the contaminated pistachios?  A mystery.

  • Cathy Richards

    HACCP is a great idea, except…our health inspectors now want our local farmers’ markets to follow HACCP practises. Is this realistic? Necessary? What about daycares that don’t serve lunches so don’t need a food establishment permit, but health inspectors want them to follow HACCP just to be able to cut up veggies to serve as snacks? This is a real barrier, and leads to our daycares serving packaged snacks — processed salty sugary fatty things are not safer than cut up veggies in the long run, but HACCP thinks they are. Food Safety is great, but can’t a focus on food safety lead to a processed food supply? Isn’t it the food sytems that need fixing, not HACCP that needs promoting? Would love your thoughts, Marion! It’s very complex and I struggle with the safe/nutritious teeter-totter.

  • Ken

    A potential solution to Cathy’s concern: devote more resources to public health education and practice. Our country is not lacking in terms of an available workforce (how many recent layoffs?…). I know finding adequate funding is a perpetual struggle in public health, so I’m sorry if I’m repeating a tired cliche. But in an ideal world, with sufficient numbers of food inspectors & microbiologists (which do not necessarily equate to processed food), we could follow HACCP wherever and whenever we wanted – small farms, schools, day cares.

    I’m no expert, but I would venture a guess to say that HACCP is poorly enforced on the USDA side of things due to an insufficient number of inspectors and inadequate funds. Is this true?

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