Pistachio Recall Balloons

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April 7, 2009 – Hundreds of brands of candy, ice cream, mixed nuts, trail mixes, and shelled or in-shell pistachios have been added to the list of recalled pistachio products.

The FDA continues to warn consumers not to eat pistachio nuts or any product containing pistachios — including ice creams, desserts, and cake mixes — until they are cleared of possible salmonella contamination.

It’s an extraordinary warning, as no known illness has been linked to salmonella from pistachios. The FDA’s swift action is aimed at preventing a salmonella outbreak — a break from the recent past, when action came only after people fell ill.

The huge expansion of the voluntary pistachio recall by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., comes in the wake of an FDA investigation that detected salmonella in critical areas of the company’s California production facility.

The original recall came after Kraft Foods Inc. alerted the FDA that its own tests detected four different salmonella strains in a batch of Setton’s roasted pistachios.

Previously, Setton had recalled about 2 million pounds of nuts, mostly sold to wholesalers but also sold under the Setton Farms brand. The new recall includes much of the company’s estimated 60-million-pound 2008 crop, including products made by Setton International Foods Inc. of Commack, N.Y., the parent company of the California firm.

The Setton recall now includes all roasted shelled pistachios, all roasted in-shell pistachios, and raw shelled pistachios not roasted by other companies before retail sale. Roasting is a step known to kill salmonella; only nuts roasted by Setton are included in the recall.

The nuts were sold in bulk to companies in 28 states and 14 nations outside the U.S., some as far away as Hong Kong and Australia.

So far, at least 234 products sold under 51 brands by 19 companies are on the FDA’s growing pistachio recall list.

At press time, the most recent additions to the list were 14 pistachio-nut products from Energy Club of Pacoima, Calif., sold under the Energy Club and Mucho Sabor brands.

Other notable brand names include Harry and David pistachio candies, Setton Farms’ dark chocolate pistachios for Passover, Ciao Bella pistachio gelato, Trader Joe flavored pistachios, Frito-Lay in-shell pistachios, Kraft’s Planters and Back To Nature pistachio products, and pistachios sold under various brand names by Kroger Co.

The Western Pistachio Association, a trade group representing U.S. pistachio growers, maintains a web site listing firms whose products, it says, are not linked to the Setton recalls. However, the FDA has not approved the list, and some of the entries are confusing, as some of the company names on the list are similar to brand names on the recall list.

Noting that the FDA is currently unable to inspect 95% of U.S. food-processing plants and food warehouses, President Barack Obama recently established a Food Safety Working Group. That group, which includes the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture, will advise the administration on which laws and regulations should be changed to improve food safety.

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