While the peanut-salmonella cases took months before federal regulators announced recalls, the pistachio-salmonella outbreak was nipped in the bud rather quickly.
Testing, that is not required, first found the contamination two weeks ago. A manufacturer for Kraft Food checked roasted nuts at a plant in Illinois as they went into a vat of trail mix.
Private inspectors working for Kraft then checked the central California plant of Setton Pistachios of Terra Bella, California and found problems that may turn out to be the source of the contamination.
This time government officials, taking a clue from industry, worked much more quickly to become proactive rather than reactive.
Dr. David Acheson of the FDA’s food safety office says to MSNBC, “The only logical advice to consumer is to say ‘OK consumers, put pistachios on hold while we work this out. We don’t want you exposed, we don’t want you getting salmonella.”
President Obama’s new acting commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein started Monday and encouraged the staff to act quickly.
As a result, two million pounds of pistachios were recalled from the market.
Ironically, food manufacturers are not required to test for contamination, and without standards many do not bother at all.
Associated Press obtained the inspection reports from the Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc. plant in Terra Bella, California. It was last visited by federal inspectors in 2003 and by state Department of Public Health officials last year. Nothing was found of a major nature. Meanwhile, a sister plant in New York had rodent droppings peeling paint and cockroaches when inspectors visited last month and gave it a failing grade.
The peanut salmonella contamination, first reported last fall, was never traced back to contaminated peanut until hundreds were sickened. Peanut Corp. of America had failed several quality tests and records showed it shipped peanuts even after learning they could be contaminated with the bacteria.
Kraft is reported to have one of the most aggressive food safety systems in place, and as the FDA considers how to fund and revamp its inspections, may serve as a model for government.
Western growers, who produce more than 99 percent of the country's pistachio crop, say they are testing shipments and working to ensure that inventories are safe. Meanwhile, consumers are warned to avoid eating pistachios in any form.
"You can call it a fluke, you can call it good luck, or you can call it good judgment on the part of Kraft," said Dr. David Acheson, FDA's assistant commissioner for food safety. "They're not required to tell us, they did and we're moving on it” he tells AP. #