Feds move quickly to combat latest
8:50 AM EDT, April 1, 2009
of Article: http://www.newsday.com/business/ny-lipist0112605860mar31,0,1009333.story
by a costly and deadly salmonella outbreak that spawned the country's
largest ever food recall, government and industry players moved quickly to
try to combat the latest scare involving pistachios.
Hours before federal regulators publicly announced a massive recall of the
nuts, public health agencies nationwide were alerted to be on the lookout
for suspicious stomach illnesses in a bid to get a jump on a potential
The rarely used tactic - announcing a recall before illnesses strike - was
meant to put the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration "ahead of the curve," said the
agency's commissioner for foods, Dr. David Acheson.
Outside of two reports of gastrointestinal illness, there has been no wave
of sickenings linked to pistachios reported. That contrasts markedly with
the peanut salmonella contamination, linked to nine deaths and poisonings
in almost 700 other people.Video
Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Calif., began voluntarily pulling its
products from distribution centers and retail shelves Monday night. The
company is an affiliate of Setton International Foods Inc., in Commack.
The problem with its pistachios was caught during internal tests performed
Nut Co., which buys nuts from Setton to make Back to Nature Nantucket Blend
trail mix under contract with Kraft Foods International. Georgia Nut was
doing routine testing, Kraft spokeswoman Adrienne Dimopoulos said. The
company notified Kraft it had identified four different strains of
salmonella in the nuts. Kraft then called the FDA on March 24 to say it was
voluntarily recalling the trail mix.
The FDA, after discussions with Georgia Nut, identified Setton as the
processor and began investigating, Acheson said. California
health officials sent investigators to review records, production practices
and collect samples for laboratory analysis. Results are not yet known.
Bill Marler, an attorney with 15 years experience litigating food-borne
illnesses, said "it was fortuitous that Kraft was conducting testing.
They deserve credit for blowing the whistle."
A more aggressive, proactive response to contamination helps change the
notion that the embattled FDA merely reacts to a contamination after
consumers start falling ill, experts say.
"Actually it's not that new," Dr. Peter Pitts, a former associate
commissioner of the FDA said of the front-footed approach. "It is an
infrequently used approach. And it is infrequently used because of the
FDA's historic dearth of funding," added Pitts, now president of the
Center for Medicine in the Public Interest in Manhattan.
Public health experts also applauded the aggressive stance. "I am
pleasantly surprised seeing them take such a comprehensive, proactive
approach. To do this kind of a warning is challenging," Dr. Humayun
Chaudhry, Suffolk County Health Commissioner, said of the FDA.
Chaudry's public health staff checked their owned data, phoned local
hospitals and found no new reports of salmonella poisoning. The Wadsworth
Center Laboratory in Albany also reported no new salmonella-related cases
Acheson credited Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, FDA's incoming deputy commissioner,
with the tougher stance on contamination. Sharfstein hopes to reinvigorate
the agency's watchdog role.
A Setton spokesman Tuesday pointed to possible cross-contamination between
roasted and raw pistachios as the cause of the problem.
Pitts stressed the pistachio recall was very different from the peanut
contamination, an outbreak he said was caused "by criminals and
involved criminal activity. The pistachio recall involves a company that
wants to do the right thing. These are completely different
scenarios," he said.
Salmonella contamination is not growing in scope, experts say. The bacteria
are part of the natural world. "It's a reflection of an industrialized
food supply," said Dr. Martin Blaser, of the department of medicine at
Medical Center and a former salmonella surveillance officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We have twentieth century and twenty-first century modes of
distribution . . . but nineteenth century modes of food safety."
merchants and customers showed little anxiety Tuesday about the voluntary
pistachio recall, with plenty of roasted pistachios available at area
Danny Alario, manager of a Commack Waldbaum's, said by noontime he had not
received word from the company headquarters about the voluntary recall.
But there was at least one resident who is taking the voluntary recall to
heart on Tuesday.
"My husband eats pistachios every single day," said Joan Simon,
62, retired and from Dix Hills, as she loaded her car with shopping bags
outside the Commack Waldbaum's. "I'm going to tell him to stay away
Staff writers Sophia Chang and Christina Hernandez contributed to this