Warning For All Foods Containing Pistachios

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Federal food safety officials warned
Monday that consumers should stop eating all foods containing
pistachios while they figure out the source of a possible
salmonella contamination.
Still reeling from the national salmonella outbreak in peanuts,
the Food and Drug Administration said central California-based
Setton Farms, the nation's second-largest pistachio processor, was
voluntarily recalling all of its 2008 crop - more than 1 million
pounds of nuts.
"Our advice to consumers is that they avoid eating pistachio
products, and that they hold onto those products," said Dr. David
Acheson, assistant commissioner for food safety. "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."
Two people called the FDA complaining of gastrointestinal
illness that could be associated with the nuts, but the link hasn't
been confirmed, Acheson said. Still, the plant decided to shut down
late last week, officials said.
The recalled nuts represent a small fraction of the 60 million
pounds of pistachios that the company's plant can process each year
and an even smaller portion of the 278 million pounds produced in
the state in the 2008 season, according to the Fresno-based
Administrative Committee for Pistachios.
California alone is the second-largest producer of pistachios in
the world.
The FDA learned about the problem last Tuesday, when Kraft Foods
Inc. notified the agency that it had detected salmonella in roasted
pistachios through routine product testing. Kraft and the Georgia
Nut Co. recalled their Back to Nature Nantucket Blend trail mix the
next day.
The FDA contacted Setton Farms and California health officials
shortly afterward.
By Friday, grocery operator Kroger Co. recalled one of its lines
of bagged pistachios because of possible salmonella contamination,
saying the California plant also supplied its nuts. Those nuts were
sold in 31 states.
Because Setton Farms shipped 2,000-pound bags of nuts to 36
wholesalers across the country, it will take weeks to figure out
how many products could be affected, said Jeff Farrar, chief of the
Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Public Health.
Setton Farms, based in Terra Bella, a rural hamlet in Tulare
County, did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
"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
said. "The firm is already turning around trucks in transit to
bring those back to the facility."
Salmonella, the most common cause of food-borne illness, is a
bacteria that causes diarrhea, fever and cramping. Most people
recover, but the infection can be life-threatening for children,
the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
For nuts, roasting is supposed to kill the bacteria. But
problems can occur if the roasting is not done correctly or if
roasted nuts are re-contaminated. That can happen if mice, rats or
birds get into the facility.
Last winter, a national salmonella outbreak was blamed on a
Georgia company under federal investigation for flouting safety
procedures and knowingly shipping contaminated peanuts.
The outbreak is still ongoing. More than 690 people in 46 states
have gotten sick. Nearly 3,900 products made with peanut
ingredients from Peanut Corp of America have been recalled.
California public health authorities have taken hundreds of
samples at Setton's processing facility, but the exact type of
salmonella has not yet been determined, Farrar said. The food
companies' own tests isolated four different types of salmonella,
but none were the same strain as the one found in the peanuts,
Acheson said.
Setton Farms is owned by the Commack, New York-based Setton
International Foods, Inc., which sells nuts, dried fruit, edible
seed, chocolate and yogurt coated candies.
Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington
and Tracie Cone in Fresno contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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