Currently browsing posts about: Pistachios

Jun 23 2009

The latest trick in recalled foods: repack and redistribute!

Even I cannot keep up with what the packers of Salmonella-contaminated foods are willing to do to sell their products.  Remember the recalled pistachios?  Turns out the recalled nuts were simply repacked and redistributed.   If you are a packer and don’t like your test results, find a lab that will give you the results you want.  If you don’t know what to do with recalled nuts, put them in new packages and ship them out.

What is it going to take to get the food safety system we need?  How much worse does it have to get?

Apr 17 2009

One food safety system: a vision

The New York Times, in an editorial “Food safety, one pistachio at a time,” says “it is time to think seriously about establishing one federal agency to coordinate and enforce food-safety regulations.”  And Michael Taylor and Stephanie David of the George Washington University Department of Health Policy provide a major position paper arguing that food safety must be a joint effort among federal, state, and local health agencies to address risks across “the farm-to-table spectrum of food production, processing, distribution, retailing, and home preparation.”  Let’s hope Congress is listening as it ponders the various bills introduced to fix the FDA or fix the entire food safety system.

Apr 7 2009

Pistachio recalls: curioser and curioser

The FDA, reports the New York Times, is getting tougher about food safety, and about time too.  Within the last few days, the FDA has issued guidance to industry about how to deal with pistachios, warned food companies that they must follow Good Manufacturing Practices, explained to companies how recalls are supposed to be done, warned consumers not to eat pistachios unless their source is known, and continued to  update the list of recalled products.

None of this gets at the real problems: the lack of a unified food safety system with some teeth in it, resources to carry out food safety oversight and inspections, and authority to order recalls of potentially unsafe food (recalls, as I keep reminding you, are voluntary).  And I guess we should add traceability.  According to the account in USA Today, the plant that shipped the contaminated pistachios has no idea where they all went.

Pistachio growers have stepped into the breach and now have a website listing products that have not been recalled.

The FDA’s handling of the pistachio situation differs sharply from the agency’s usual way of handling such things.  Usually, the FDA waits for people to get sick before taking action.  The odd thing here is that nobody seems to have gotten sick from eating contaminated pistachios.  So what the FDA is doing is working – so far.

And all this is happening under the leadership of an Acting Commissioner while the newly appointed Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, awaits congressional approval.

May 26 update: FoodProductionDaily.com reports that the supplier of Salmonella-contaminated pistachios had tested the nuts, found them to contain Salmonella, and re-heated them, but didn’t bother to check to make sure the Salmonella were killed or that the nuts weren’t recontaminated with unroasted nuts.  Bill Marler has more to say about this.  Here’s the FDA inspection report of April 30, and the FDA Pistachio recall page again.

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.

Mar 31 2009

And now you can’t eat pistachios either

The FDA is announcing the “voluntary” recall of certain pistachio products.  Certain, in this case, means a mere million pounds of products from Setton Pistachios of Terra Bella, CA.  These appear to be contaminated with multiple strains of Salmonella. As with the peanut butter recalls, pistachios are used in many different kinds of products.  The FDA learned about the problem from Kraft Foods, which found Salmonella in its Back to Nature Trail Mix. Nobody has gotten sick yet, but stay tuned.  The FDA has a brand new pistachio recall page on its website.  Now you can keep track of pistachio recalls along with the peanut butter recalls which continue to come in every day and now add up to nearly 4,000 products.

Will this ever end?  While waiting for Congress to approve the appointment of Dr. Margaret Hamburg as FDA Commissioner, her deputy, Joseph Scharstein, has just taken over as acting commissioner.  These new officials will have plenty of work to do to get this mess under control.