A recent salmonella scare that prompted a blanket federal warning against eating pistachios could have been caused by contaminated raw nuts becoming mixed in with roasted nuts during processing, according to the company at the center of the nationwide recall.
According to Setton International Foods Inc. production manager Lee Cohen, the company does not believe that a human or animal source was responsible for the pistachios’ contamination. He says that the company believes that roasted pistachios sold to Kraft Foods Inc. were possibly mixed at Setton’s plant with raw nuts that could have contained traces of bacteria.
The pistachios were processed at central California-based Setton Pistacho of Terra Bella Inc., which is within the corporate family of Commack, New York-based Setton International Foods Inc. Cohen is in California aiding the Food and Drug Administration with its inspection of Setton, which is the second-largest pistachio processor in the U.S.
The purpose of roasting the nuts is to kill the bacteria. However, if the roasting is done incorrectly or roasted nuts are re-contaminated, problems can still arise.
On March 30, federal health officials warned people to avoid any products containing pistachios while the investigation was taking place.
According to the FDA, Setton Pistachio voluntarily issued a recall for more than 2 million pounds of its roasted nuts shipped since last fall. Officials say that some of those nuts had also been shipped to Norway and Mexico.
According to assistant commissioner for food safety Dr. David Acheson, it is known that the California farm shipped its products to 36 wholesalers, but it is unknown at this point what the wholesalers did with the products.
Acheson said that the FDA had been contacted by two people who complained of gastrointestinal illness that could be associated with the nuts, but the link has yet to be confirmed. However, Setton made the decision to temporarily shut down the Terra Bella plant anyway, officials said.
The FDA learned of the issue on March 24, when it was contacted by Kraft Foods Inc., who notified that agency that salmonella had been detected in roasted pistachios through routine product testing. The following day, a recall was issued by Kraft and the Georgia Nut Co. for their Back to Nature Nantucket Blend trail mix.
On March 31, Kraft expanded the recall to include any Planters and Back to Nature products containing pistachios supplied by Setton Pistachio since September 1.