US-wide pistachio recall shows how FDA should work, claim officials

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Food and drug administration Salmonella

A Californian company is recalling over a million pounds of pistachios distributed nationwide due to possible salmonella contamination.

Even as the massive salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products continues, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that central-Californian based pistachio processor Setton Farms has voluntarily recalled its entire 2008 pistachio crop due to an unrelated salmonella contamination.

However, health officials have stressed that this is how the food safety net should work: By recalling products to prevent an illness outbreak, rather than reacting after an illness has spread.

FDA associate commissioner for foods David Acheson told reporters in a conference call: “This recall was not triggered because of an outbreak, in contrast to the peanut butter. This is an example of the FDA getting out ahead of the curve.”

It is not yet clear how the pistachios came to be contaminated as they were roasted, which should kill salmonella. Officials have speculated that there could have been cross-contamination from raw pistachios at the plant.

Recall could expand

The FDA learned of the salmonella on March 24, when four different strains were discovered through routine tests carried out by Kraft Foods, leading to a voluntary recall of its Nature Nantucket trail mix.

A second recall linked to the plant came on Friday when the Cincinnati-based Kroger supermarket chain withdrew its own-brand pistachios. However, other pistachio-containing products such as cookie dough, confectionery and ice-cream could be affected by the recall, according to Jeff Farrar, chief of the food branch at the California Department of Health, which is working with the FDA in its investigation.

Awaiting test results

At this stage there is no indication that the product recall is linked to any incidence of illness, but FDA test results on Setton Farm’s pistachios are expected in the next day or two, after which health authorities hope to know within a week whether there are matching strains on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s database.

The plant chose to close last week, officials said, prior to which it sold pistachios to 36 wholesalers in 1,000lb to 2,000lb quantities.

Acheson said: “The number of products that are going to be recalled over the coming days will grow, simply because these pistachio nuts have then been repackaged into consumer-level containers.”

Consumer advice

For now, the FDA is advising consumers to avoid eating pistachios and pistachio-containing products, but not to throw them out. It has also announced the launch of an interactive website of the same kind used during the peanut product recall which it said will become live once more information is available.

“We will be working closely with industry to try and get our arms around this as quickly as possible,”​ said Acheson.

Two people have contacted the FDA complaining of gastrointestinal illness that could have been caused by pistachios, but a link has not been confirmed.

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