The Pistachio Recall Lesson

nestle apr2 pistachio.jpg

Photo by gurms/Flickr CC


The interesting part about this latest recall--now two 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 nine 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.

Presented by

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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