Raw almonds must undergo pasteurization, a kill step intended to eliminate any bacteria, recently said a federal judge.  Actually, the judge didn’t make the rule, the USDA did under its rulemaking power, and the federal judge merely held that the rule was within the USDA’s authority and was consistent with the USDA’s procedural obligations in rulemaking.

Almonds have caused outbreaks before.  In 2004, they caused Salmonella illnesses throughout the USA and Canada. The almonds were processed by Paramount Farms, a California grower and processor.  Paramount Farms voluntarily recalled 13 million pounds of raw almonds. This outbreak had persisted for many months before the source was determined. Illnesses related to the outbreak first occurred in January, 2002. The last noted illnesses occurred in April, 2004.

And in 2000, Salmonella and almonds again collided in another international outbreak.  In Canada, 157 people fell ill, and in the United States 11 were infected. The Canadian cases resided in the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. Consumption of raw, whole, almonds was associated with the infections. The outbreak strain was isolated from almond samples that collected from home, retail, distribution, and warehouse sources and from environmental swabs of processing equipment and associated farmers’ orchards. The almonds had been grown and processed in the state of California.

In 2006, largely in response to these outbreaks, the Modesto-based Almond Board of California recommended new safety rules, including the almond/salmonella rule that the judge recently upheld, and the Agriculture Department subsequently put them in place.

California almond producers in 2010-11 shipped a record 1.6 billion pounds of almonds, with the crop valued at $2.8 billion. Production has grown even more since then.