During a press conference late yesterday afternoon, federal food officials warned that consumers should not eat any food products containing pistachios or packages of roasted pistachio nuts. They may carry salmonella contamination, although not the deadly strain associated with the peanut outbreak.
The pistachio products are from Tulare, California-based Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., the nation’s second-largest pistachio processor, who voluntarily recalled more than 2-million pounds of its roasted pistachios shipped nationally since last fall. In question are domestic pistachios only from the 2008 crop year. The recalled nuts represent a small fraction of the 55 million pounds of pistachios that the company's plant processed last year and an even smaller portion of the 278 million pounds produced in the state in the 2008 season, according to the Fresno-based Administrative Committee for Pistachios.
The FDA learned about the problem and notified the California Department of Public Health last Tuesday, when Kraft Foods Inc. alerted the agency that it detected various types of salmonella in roasted pistachios through routine product lab testing. Kraft and the Georgia Nut Co. recalled their Back to Nature Nantucket Blend trail mix the next day, and on Friday Kroger Co. recalled one of its lines of bagged pistachios because of possible salmonella contamination, saying the California plant also supplied the nuts sold in 31 states.
"Our advice to consumers is that they avoid eating pistachio products, and that they hold onto those products," said Dr. Acheson, assistant commissioner for food safety, FDA. "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."
“This is a proactive move to get ahead of the curve, said Dr. Acheson, and the hypothesis is the contamination occurred somewhere between raw and roasted products. He added that Setton closed down the plant immediately, recalled all its distribution trucks and has been extremely cooperative.
For nutmeat aficionados, this is so depressing. But there are two bright notes. All California almonds shipped within the U.S. undergo a pasteurization treatment before reaching consumers. And it is comforting to know that food companies, like Kraft in this case, do their own lab testing for salmonella.