Judge upholds almond pasteurization law

Source of Article:  http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/Quality-Safety/Judge-upholds-almond-pasteurization-law


By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 13-Mar-2009

A federal judge has rejected challenges to a law requiring mandatory pasteurization of almonds to reduce risk of salmonella contamination.

The law, which was designed with input from the Almond Board of California and industry, was first introduced in 2007 largely in response to two salmonella outbreaks linked to unpasteurized almonds – one in Canada in 2001, and a second in Oregon in 2004.

Since September 2007, all US almonds have had to be pasteurized, angering raw almond advocates, who say they can sell unpasteurized raw almonds for up to 40 percent more than pasteurized ones.

Concerns have also been raised about the market threat of cheaper, unpasteurized almonds arriving from overseas, as the law does not require imported almonds to be pasteurized.

The legal challenge was organized by small-scale farming campaigners at the Cornucopia Institute, which has called the judge’s final decision a “setback”.

Will Fantle of the Cornucopia Institute said: “We are not abandoning the fight to return to grocer’s shelves an American-grown, highly nutritional raw food that has been eaten with confidence and enjoyment for decades. We believe the fundamental points of our lawsuit are valid and need to be tested.”

Involving the industry

However, general manager of Big Tree Organic Farms Wendy Larson told FoodNavigator-USA.com that she believes “it is the end of the line for unpasteurized almonds” and criticized those that raised the case for being under-involved in the discussion process.

“There were numerous discussion and education opportunities presented to the entire almond industry – organic included – well in advance of the mandatory pasteurization rule being put in place and that was the time to iron out concerns,” she said. “It’s time for them to come back to the conference table and participate in innovation.”

Foreign advantage

Although her organization supports the legislation as a way of protecting consumer health, she said the disparity between what is expected of US almond producers and foreign producers is problematic.

She said: “The price is lower since the cost of production is much lower in other countries. Thus the market competition is rough…If an illness outbreak occurs from an unpasteurized imported almond, I doubt that it will be well distinguished as an imported almond problem so sales of all almonds will drop off dramatically.”

Pasteurization process

There are also concerns about the cost of pasteurization, its availability, and how acceptable it is to consumers who prefer organic produce.

Pasteurization of almonds is carried out in one of two ways: By treatment with propylene oxide gas – in which case almonds cannot be considered organic – or by steam treatment.

Larson said: “Pasteurization implies over-processing, but after careful review and analysis of my own products, I have to say that ‘clean and safe’ is not synonymous with ‘over-processed’…If anything, I would want to find a vendor to provide a low temperature method of pasteurization that would be acceptable to organic standards. That would be the silver bullet.”

The Almond Board of California said in a statement that it remained committed to the legislation implemented in 2007.

The objective of the program, then and now, is to ensure consumers are provided with wholesome food products, free from potentially harmful levels of bacteria,” it said.



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