Salmonella findings prompt FDA warning on pistachios

Mar 30, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today warned consumers to avoid eating pistachios after a California producer recalled 1 million pounds of its product because of tests by a food company that showed contamination with four different Salmonella strains.

David Acheson, MD, associate commissioner for foods at the FDA, emphasized at a media briefing this evening that no illnesses have been linked to the outbreak and that the advice to consumers is a proactive move to prevent illnesses while the FDA tracks the distribution of the pistachios. They were produced by Setton Farms, based in Terra Bella, Calif., the nation's second largest supplier of domestically grown pistachios.

"We're getting out ahead of the curve. This recall was triggered by sampling in the food industry," Acheson said, commending Kraft Foods for identifying the contamination through routine rigorous testing and notifying the FDA of its findings on Mar 24. Kraft recalled its Back to Nature Nantucket Blend trail mix, which contains pistachios, on Mar 25. Two days later, Kroger Corp. recalled 10-ounce containers of its Private Selection shelled pistachios, sold in 31 states.

Acheson said that though the pistachio recall is unrelated to the recent Salmonella outbreak linked to the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), he predicted that the number of product recalls might rival the PCA outbreak, because pistachios—like peanuts—are used as an ingredient in such a wide array of food products. The FDA will add interactive tools to its Web site to help consumers manage the volume of pistachio recall information.

Acheson advised consumers to hold onto their pistachio products until more details are known about the distribution of the recalled pistachios. He said FDA and California investigators at the facility are examining supply-chain and distribution records and that the California Department of Public Health has collected hundreds of environmental samples.

Jeff Farrar, food and drug chief of the California Department of Health Services (CDHS), told reporters that the recall covers Setton Farms' 2008 crop year. "The firm has been cooperative, even turning around trucks that are in transit," he said.

Though no illnesses have been directly linked to the Salmonella contamination in pistachios, Acheson said the FDA has received at least two consumer complaints, one from the East Coast and one from the West Coast.

The FDA said the four Salmonella enterica serotypes identified in testing conducted by Kraft are Montevideo, Newport, Senftenberg, and Larochelle.

Acheson said the FDA is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine if any of the isolates are linked to any illnesses.

The pistachios distributed by Setton Farms are roasted, which typically represents a kill step for Salmonella organisms, Acheson said, adding that cross-contamination, environmental contamination, or a flaw in the roasting process could have tainted the pistachios. The company distributes bulk roasted pistachios to about 35 wholesalers that repack the products and distribute them to other companies.

See also:

Mar 25 Georgia Nut recall notice

Mar 25 Kraft press release

Mar 27 Kroger pistachio recall

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