Nuts have been associated with Salmonella outbreaks in the US and Canada several times over the last ten years. Almonds were responsible for the first outbreaks, in 2001 and then again in 2004, when contamination with Salmonella Enterica triggered a recall of 13 million pounds of California almonds. A requirement was implemented in 2007 that all almonds sold on the domestic market be pasteurized. A court recently upheld that requirement.
The first US instance of Salmonella traced to peanuts was the Peter Pan/Great Value (ConAgra) outbreak of 2006-2007 (there was a Salmonella-Peanut outbreak in Australia in 1996). 648 people in 47 states were culture-confirmed with Salmonella Tennessee. ConAgra undertook a 33-million dollar renovation of their facility before resuming production. If it sounds familiar, it should. Not 75 miles away from the ConAgra plant, history repeated itself. Learning nothing from ConAgra’s experience, the Peanut Corporation of America was the source of the 2008-2009 outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium, which was responsible for 691 illnesses, 9 deaths, and the recall of over 3,800 products made by hundreds of companies for an overall price tag north of a billion dollars.
Now it’s pistachios. In the most recent outbreak, Setton Pistachios has recalled two million pounds of nuts, which were sold to both retail and wholesale customers. What is unusual about this recall is that it happened in advance of any reported illnesses, based on testing done by one of Setton’s customers. Another unusual aspect of the current recall is that four different strains, or serotypes, of Salmonella have been linked to the outbreak: Montevideo, Newport, Seftenberg and Larochelle.
As with other foodborne illness outbreaks, the reason for the increase is difficult to identify. It could be a result of more disease surveillance, better reporting, and better medical testing of ill people or it could be due to businesses growing and trying to make more product faster, cutting back on safety measures. It’s impossible to know for sure. What is certain is the need for more resources in the hands of the FDA to inspect food manufacturing plants more often than once every four to six years. And, we need more resources for State Health Departments and the CDC to track foodborne illnesses quicker, so less people are sickened.