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Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

What do Stephen Colbert and Salmonella have in common? Pistachios

Wonderful Pistachios announced today that Stephen Colbert, Emmy-award winning host and executive producer of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” will star in two Super Bowl spots for the brand. This will be Wonderful Pistachios’ second consecutive Super Bowl appearance and will kick-off a new, full-year agreement with Mr. Colbert under the campaign theme, “Get Snackin’, Canada.”

According to a recently released FDA Warning Letter, in early 2013 ARO, a pistachio producer not affiliated with Wonderful Pistachios, was associated with three Reportable Food Registry (RFR) reports that detailed positive Salmonella findings detected in two shipments of raw pistachios.  In addition, according to the letter, a cluster of salmonellosis infections reported from January through May 2013, were investigated by local, state, and federal public health and regulatory agencies. Epidemiological data from the outbreak investigation coupled with results of FDA inspection findings and analyses from product and environmental samples collected from ARO’s processing facility indicate that pistachios were the likely source of the Salmonella outbreak.

During the May 21st through May 24th, 2013 inspection, environmental samples were collected from various locations within ARO’s processing facility and analyzed. The analysis revealed the presence of Salmonella enterica serotype Senftenberg (S. senftenberg) in seventeen (17) subsamples.

During the FDA inspection, investigators observed the following significant violation:

a.         An employee in the roasting room was observed repeatedly touching the bottom of shipping boxes that were resting on the floor and then touching roasted, ready-to-eat, pistachios without washing or sanitizing hands.

b.         Maintenance personnel were observed entering and exiting the hand sorting room through a door that opens directly to the outside of the facility. Apparent bird droppings were observed on the floor of the outside areas where maintenance personnel were observed working and entering the hand sorting room.

c.         Inside the hand sorting room, two buckets containing floor sweepings of pistachios, dust, and debris, were observed near the hand sorting production lines. During the inspection, ARO stated that the buckets of floor swept pistachios would be reworked into finished product.

d.         The movement of employees from the outside of the facility (where apparent bird droppings were observed) into the hand sorting room may introduce contaminants into the facility and contaminate finished food, particularly based on the practice of reworking pistachios from the floor.