group takes steps to stop product contamination.
2001 and 2004, the California almond industry suffered
two devastating blows: salmonella outbreaks that resulted in foodborne illness
and product recalls. The products implicated in both incidents were raw shelled
almonds. Unique in the way they are harvested and processed, almonds are shaken
from trees and raked into windrows, which are brought to the processing plant.
Harvest and collection exposes the product to whatever is on the orchard
ground. Since it is impossible to keep birds and wild animals out of the
orchards, the almond industry implemented an aggressive plan to prevent product
The Almond Board of California upgraded its systems to not only protect
consumers, but to protect an industry which produces in excess of one billion
pounds of almonds annually.
The Board encouraged growers to adopt good agricultural practices (GAPs) and
developed a “Good Agricultural Practices Quick-Start Guide.” This seven-step
program includes documentation, employee training, fertilizer and soil
amendment practices, water quality and sourcing, orchard floor management,
field sanitation and employee hygiene and pest control.
Since both outbreaks were traced to raw products, the Almond Board funded a
series of research projects to develop new methodologies to pasteurize raw
almonds. The processes had to ensure safety, yet still retain the unique
sensory characteristics of the raw product.
To facilitate the evaluation of new technologies, the Board funded research on
established heat resistance for the target organism (PT 30 strain of
salmonella) and pasteurization processes for polypropylene oxide (PPO). The
program includes critical factors for almond temperature, time, and amount of
PPO applied to the system. Failure to meet these critical factors means that
the product is potentially unsafe and must be placed on hold pending evaluation
by a process authority. There are three industrial systems that have this far
been approved for pasteurization: FMC’s JSP-1 Almond Surface Pasteurization
system, the Ventilex Steam Pasteurizer and the H2O Express Pasteurizer. There
are also ongoing projects to evaluate new technologies and establish a non-pathogenic
surrogate for salmonella. The Almond Board’s research indicates that approved
pasteurization processes do not have an adverse effect on sensory or shelf-life
On March 30, 2007, the Department of
Agriculture published its final rule mandating the pasteurization of California almonds. The industry has
until September 1, 2007 to comply. The Almond
Board has taken the needed steps to stop product contamination. Now it is up to
the industry to implement the latest technologies to keep the food supply safe.