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Raw Nuts Could Be Salmonella Source in Pistachios: Report

Calif. producer says they may have been mixed in during production process

TUESDAY, March 31 (HealthDay News) -- The salmonella contamination behind the recall of 1 million pounds of pistachios may have come from raw nuts involved in processing at a California plant, according to the company that produced the nuts.

Lee Cohen, production manager for Setton International Foods Inc. of Terra Bella, Calif., said Tuesday that the company suspects roasted pistachios sold to Kraft Foods may have become mixed at the plant with raw nuts that could have contained traces of the salmonella bacteria. Cohen ruled out a human or animal source of the contamination, the Associated Press reported.

Also Tuesday, Kraft expanded its recall to include any Planters and Back to Nature products that contain pistachios supplied by Setton since Sept. 1, the news service said.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials announced Monday night that the agency was investigating a salmonella contamination that could involve 1 million pounds of pistachios that were sold in at least 31 states.

The current contamination is not connected to the recent salmonella scare involving peanuts, the officials said. But they are recommending that people avoid eating any pistachio products.

"We are not dealing with an outbreak here," Dr. David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods at the FDA, said during a teleconference Monday evening. "This is a proactive move by the firm to recall contaminated product, and it is very distinctly not linked to an outbreak. This recall is being undertaken by sampling by part of the food industry."

The California Department of Public Health is also involved in the investigation.

Setton Farms was recalling certain pistachio nuts based on these findings, Acheson said. Investigators were honing in on pistachios packaged at the Terra Bella plant.

"These findings came to light because of testing that another company was doing as part of routine analysis in which they found a variety of different types of salmonella. Based on this, they contacted the FDA," he said.

On March 24, Kraft Foods alerted the FDA and started a recall of its Back to Nature Nantucket Blend trail mix, Acheson said.

Setton Farms supplies pistachios in large quantities to 36 wholesalers who repackage them or resell them, Acheson said.

"The number of products that are going to be recalled over the coming days will grow simply because these pistachios have been repackaged to consumer level containers," Acheson said Monday.

Setton Farms also supplied pistachios to grocer Kroger Co., which has already issued a recall, Acheson said. Those nuts were sold in 31 states, the AP reported.

There have been some consumer complaints about these products, Acheson said. "That does mean definitively that they caused illness. Some consumers developed gastrointestinal illness, and called [the] FDA," he said.

The agency is recommending that people avoid eating any pistachio products. However, they should hold on to these products until it's clear which ones are affected, Acheson added.

This is not the first time this year that nut products have been found to be tainted with salmonella.

In January, U.S. officials launched a criminal investigation into a salmonella outbreak tied to tainted peanut products that sickened almost 700 people and may have contributed to at least nine deaths. The probe will focus on possible criminal violations at the Georgia processing plant owned by Peanut Corp. of America (PCA), which knowingly shipped peanut butter and peanut paste products that had tested positive for salmonella, officials said at the time.

And just last month, FDA officials issued a warning that consumers shouldn't eat any peanuts or peanut products sold by Westco Fruit and Nuts Inc. because they may be contaminated with salmonella. Peanuts used in the Westco products may have come from PCA, officials said.

More information

For more on salmonella, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: March 30, 2009, teleconference with David Acheson, M.D., associate commissioner, foods, U.S. Food and DrugMarch 30, 2009, Associated Press

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