April 1, 2009

C.U. Dining Pulls All Pistachio-Related Products

Print More

On the heels of the Salmonella-contaminated peanut product recall, the Food and Drug Administration and California Department of Public Health are now investigating Salmonella contamination in pistachio products from a farm in California. Amidst the investigation, both are advising consumers to avoid eating any product containing pistachios until it can be determined what specific products have been contaminated.
Dr. David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods at the FDA, said during a teleconference Monday that the investigation arose from Kraft food’s discovery of Salmonella during a routine inspection of trail mix on March 24. The contamination was traced back to Setton Farms in Terra Bella, California, and the company has issued a voluntary recall of around one million pounds of pistachios.
“I want to emphasize this recall was not triggered because of an outbreak,” Acheson said. “What we are doing here is getting ahead of the curve.” This means that there have been no outbreaks of Salmonella tied directly to pistachios, although there have been some complaints from consumers of gastrointestinal illnesses after eating related products.
Acheson said that the food industry has identified four strains of Salmonella — Montevideo, Newport, Senftenberg and Larochelle — and the FDA is working with the Centers for Disease Control to determine whether there is any association between the isolates found and illnesses.
According to the CDC website, people affected with Salmonella develop gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, cramps) and fever 12 to 72 hours after infection, but usually recover without treatment after seven days. However, sometimes patients with severe diarrhea need to be hospitalized because the infection can spread into the blood stream and then potentially cause death if not treated with antibiotics. Those at the highest risk for severe illness are the elderly, infants and people with impaired immune systems.
Cornell Dining has posted a statement on their website to assure students that they are adhering to the FDA’s warnings and have pulled all pistachio-related products. “We’ve erred on the side of good judgment and pulled ice cream and trail mix products,” said Karen Brown, director of campus life marketing and communications. Brown added that this recall was on a much smaller scale than the peanut product recall earlier this year since the peanut recall spanned a much wider array of products. The dining staff will be checking with the FDA every day to return products to shelves as they clear the investigation.
Jeff Farrar, the chief of the food and drug branch of the California Department of Public Health, said during a teleconference that a team of investigators and specialists was dispatched to the farm as soon as they became aware of the issue. The samples they took are currently being processed, although it will take several days to begin for the results to start coming in.
Consumers need to be cautious of all pistachio products at this point because Setton Farms sells its pistachios to wholesale dealers who then either repack them or send them to other manufacturers.
Over the past few of years, there have been a number of food related recalls — peanut products for Salmonella earlier this year, tomatoes for Salmonella last summer and spinach for E.coli in 2006.
“I wish we had a crystal ball that could tell us why they’re all occurring,” said Prof. Robert Gravani, food science. “A lot of things are changing — the environment is changing, the organisms themselves are changing and we as hosts are changing. Clearly, with all of these issues out there we’re going to see some differences.”
Gravani said that Cornell has a program called the National Good Agricultural Practices program which involves a collaborative effort among 25 states to distribute training materials and educate the industry about food safety. “We try to stress that we’ve got to reduce microbial hazards and risks across the board,” Gravani said. This includes considering water quality, manure use, the farm workers themselves and animals in close proximity to water supplies or very close to fields.
Gravani also added that preventative strategies are extremely important. Once the organism gets into a product it is very difficult to remove it, making prevention practices among with the growing, harvesting and packaging industries all the more important.
“I think the take home message for all Cornellians is if you’ve got any pistachio containing products just hold on to them until the investigation has continued,” Gravani said.
The FDA’s website http://www.fda.gov/pistachios/ has the most up to date information about the products that have been recalled and those that have been cleared.