This week, Food and Drug Administration officials issued an alert warning consumers to avoid eating pistachios and food containing pistachios while it investigates the source of another possible salmonella outbreak.
The FDA announced that Setton International Foods, Inc., a division of Terra Bella Inc., would voluntarily recall approximately 2 million pounds of roasted pistachios that have been shipping since last fall. The investigation and recall come after two people contacted the FDA complaining of symptoms of salmonella poisoning after eating the nuts. Although the link has not yet been confirmed, the plant where the pistachios were processed temporarily shut down last week.
The FDA was first alerted to a potential problem when a representative of Kraft Foods informed the agency that its Back to Nature Trail Mix tested positive for salmonella contamination. The company identified Setton pistachios as the source of the contamination and issued a recall.
Dr. David Acheson, the FDA’s assistant commissioner for food safety, said that consumers should avoid eating but hold onto any pistachio products. “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,” he told the Associated Press.
According to the FDA advisory, “the contamination involves multiple strains of Salmonella. Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Thus far, several illnesses have been reported by consumers that may be associated with the pistachios.”
The 2 million pounds of possibly contaminated pistachios constitute a very small fraction of the 278 million pounds of pistachios harvested in California last year. California is the second largest grower of pistachios in the world, just behind Iran.
Officials believe that the contaminated nuts entered the consumer market in 31 states. A representative of Setton Pistachio said the recall applies only to a specific lot of both in the shell and shelled roasted pistachios.
Jeff Farrar of the California Department of Public Health said that it may take weeks to determine specifically which products the possibly contaminated nuts affects. Setton packaged the pistachios in 2,000-pound containers and shipped them to 36 wholesalers throughout the U.S.
“It will be safe to assume based on the volume that this will be an ingredient in a lot of different products, and that may possibly include things like ice cream and cake mixes,” Farrar told the AP. “The firm is already turning around trucks in transit to bring those back to the facility.”
The outbreak comes on the heels of one of the country’s largest salmonella outbreaks and product recalls in history. Last winter, the Peanut Corporation of America knowingly distributed contaminated peanut butter products to food manufacturers and institutions throughout the U.S., which led to an outbreak of salmonella poisoning in nearly every state.
The FDA has since come under fire for failing to adequately protect the public from such outbreaks. Agency leaders have been working to “drastically compress” the timeframe of salmonella detection from 2 weeks to 2 days, stressing the need for federal agencies to work with each other in a concerted effort to protect the public’s health.