Almond queen takes on raw, pushes food safety

If Chapman is the canning queen, Linda Harris is the almond queen (and was on my PhD supervisory committee all those years ago).

linda.harris.storyHarris, a cooperative extension specialist who researches food safety at the University of California, Davis, told NPR, “There is no legal definition, no federal definition of the word ‘raw,’ ” and that studies show pasteurization doesn’t change the nutritional value of almonds.

She also predicts that sterilization of a lot more foods will soon be required by law.

NPR was going after the what-does-raw-really-mean angle.

All California almonds — which would be virtually all the almonds in the country — are either heat-pasteurized or treated with a fumigant. The processes, which have been required by law since 2007, are intended to prevent foodborne illness. But almond aficionados say the treatments taint the flavor and mislead consumers.

Yup, heard that before, think raw milk.

Aficionados generally don’t have PhDs in food science, but I guess it makes good press.

In a warehouse near Newman, Calif., run by the Cosmed Group, millions of almonds are heated in huge metal containers. The temperature inside the chambers gradually rises to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The goal is to ensure through steam pasteurization that the almonds don’t carry bacteria from the fields to consumers.

“As the steam is coming out, it rolls around in the chamber so it can penetrate everything,” plant manager Dianne Newell explains.

“The whole process from start to finish is about nine hours,” says Newell — though the timing can vary widely at different facilities, depending on how they choose to steam the nuts.

Handlers open hundreds of boxes destined for the steaming vats. Almonds aren’t the only crop treated here: The facility also processes sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews, sun-dried tomatoes, dried apricots, dried strawberries and dried blueberries.

But almonds are the only nut, seed or dried fruit that must — by law — be pasteurized. If they’re not steamed, they must be fumigated with a chemical called propylene oxide, or PPO.

The regulation is a result of two salmonella outbreaks traced to almonds in the early 2000s. Almonds are not any more susceptible to the bacteria than other nuts and dried goods, but the Almond Board of California wanted to prevent future outbreaks. So the industry asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement a rule requiring raw almonds grown in California’s Central Valley to be pasteurized. In 2007 the USDA issued the “almond rule.”

From the Salmonella in low moisture foods file: Trader Joe’s almond butter edition

At the 2007 IAFP annual meeting in Florida, CDC foodborne illness outbreak guru Robert Tauxe told symposium audience that the next big thing for food safety was low-moisture ingredients. Salmonella is hardy, especially when stressed through drying, so it sticks around for a while. It might not grow much without available water, many low-moisture foods are also high-fat which protects the pathogen in the gut and leads to a lower mean infectious dose. Tauxe’s comments were post- Salmonella Tennessee in Peter Pan peanut butter and pre- Salmonella Wandsworth in Veggie Booty (and other outbreaks) and he talked about dried spices and flavorings and peanut butter-type products like hummus and tahini. And almond butter.91989-Raw-Crunchy-Unsalted-Almond-Butter

According to a message on the Trader Joe’s website, the retailer is recalling specific lots of two types of of almond butter.

We have been alerted by our supplier of Trader Joe’s Raw Almond Butters that there is a possibility that product with the specified date codes may be contaminated with Salmonella:

Raw Crunchy Unsalted Almond Butter

SKU 91989

USE BY 28DEC14 thru 18JUN15

Raw Creamy Unsalted Almond Butter

SKU 56995

USE BY 27DEC14 thru 18JUL15

 In accordance with our stringent health and safety standards, and as an extreme precaution, all of the potentially affected product has been removed from sale and destroyed.

Customers who have purchased any of these items with the specified code dates are urged to not eat them and to dispose of them or return them to any Trader Joe’s for a full refund.

No other Trader Joe’s products are included in this recall.

Regardless of regulation, actually employing best practices matters

A lot of folks in the food system are concerned about the potential for FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and associated rules, to negatively impact businesses. There’s been a bunch of rhetoric and uncertainty around the final rules and what will be needed to comply. The majority of the content of the proposed Produce and Preventive Controls Rules summarizes the industry’s best practices and lists the references behind decisions.tomato_dump_tank

Not much in there that’s a surprise for folks who have been paying attention.

The focus of FSMA is on identifying hazards, putting steps in place to manage them and actually doing it. The best businesses are already doing this.

There are some specifics like manure incorporation and what a qualified individual is (who is supposed to be responsible for written plans) that need to be worked out. But employing practices and putting systems in place based on the best available science goes a long way in the absence of a regulation.

Back in the day when we were working with produce farmers and packers in Ontario (that’s in Canada) that’s what we tried to do – to stay ahead of the market requirements and regulation.

It’s not a unique approach – the almond industry took a similar path, so did Florida tomato growers and leafy greens producers in California and Arizona to some extent.

According to Lancaster Online, Pennsylvania farmers, through ag educators might be focusing on the uncertainty.

Ag educator Jeff Stoltzfus said he has learned a lot about food safety in the past five years.

But when it comes to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to overhaul food safety regulations, he’s still trying to figure out the impact it will have on the growers he works with.

“What we don’t know is more than what we do know,” he told a group of growers gathered recently at Yoder’s Restaurant for New Holland Vegetable Day.

Keeping good records, he said, could be the most important thing for growers to protect themselves in case a problem arises.

“Records are going to be very important and policies will be even more important, especially if you’re taking stuff from other growers.”

I disagree – actually employing the correct risk-reduction practices based would top my list. The documentation is nice and shows a regulator or a buyer that you know what you’re talking about – but doing it is more important.

27 sick; almonds linked to Australian salmonella outbreak

It’s mildly entertaining to go to the shops in Brisbane and guess what 1980s song will be playing as background, while Amy dresses like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan and inflicts the same on Sorenne.

But it’s annoying to think Australians are stuck in the mid-1980s when it comes to communicating about food safety.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) today urged consumers to check their pantries for raw almonds that might be contaminated with Salmonella, while revealing that at least 27 people were sick.

When Woolworths announced a recall of the almonds earlier this month several people from southeast Queensland e-mailed me and said, oh yeah, we got sick.

A couple of weeks later and there’s now 27 sick.

So, health types, when did you know people were sick, when did you make the association with almonds, who grew and processed the almonds, what preventative measures were taken by growers and the industry, given the history of Salmonella-related almond outbreaks in California, and what is your policy on informing the public about potential health risks?

Or should we all just go back to sleep?

Deputy FSANZ chief executive Melanie Fisher said, “The food recalls were notified earlier this month but we want to ensure consumers are carefully checking their pantries as packaged raw almonds are often bought to use later.”

I don’t know who talks like that, but I’m still learning Australian.

Gratuitous food porn shot of the day grilled brie on a cedar plank with raspberries, almonds, thyme and stuff

When I was in Australia a couple of years ago with Amy, I got a bottle of Lindeman’s red wine and it had this spice pack and recipe attached to the bottle. I rediscovered the stowaways yesterday, so after successfully preparing baguettes again with Sorenne this morning, we went for this food porn dinner:

A wheel of brie, sitting on a cedar plank, with some of the Lindeman spice on it, and then topped with a mixture of raspberries, thyme, red wine, almonds (I also added pine nuts) and more of the spice. Grill for 18 minutes.

The BBQ ran out of gas after three minutes.

So into the oven at 350 F for 12 minutes, served on baguette slices and fresh veggies to preserve our arteries.

It was yummy, but reminded me of fondue.

California store caught selling moth-infested almonds

KTVU reports a Lucky’s grocery store in San Ramon, California, apologized Sunday for selling bags of almonds that contained live and dead insects.

After receiving a call from two customers saying they had bought a bag of almonds from the store and found live moths inside the bags, KTVU decided to check it out.

On Sunday morning, reporter Janine De la Vega went inside and bought a couple of bags of Sun Valley Almonds. She found insects inside these bags.

A corporate spokesperson said the store had removed the bad merchandise Friday and new bags of almonds were restocked on the shelves. But what store employees didn’t realize was those bags were also tainted.