FDA Examining Mounting Salmonella Contamination Risks

salmonella_nut_contaminationsThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking into Salmonella risks four years after a massive recall related to tainted nuts.

That recall, according to Bloomberg News, was associated with nine deaths and is considered one of the largest recalls in United States history. Now, regulators are looking at the health risks for other nuts to become contaminated and to learn why the Salmonella pathogen, uncommon in foods with lower moisture such as nuts, has been the focus of a number of recalls for foods including, almonds, cashews, and pistachios.

In fact, some key nut producers—Diamond Foods Inc. and Kraft Foods Group Inc.—have been asked to review their Salmonella prevention protocols so that the FDA can better understand how to minimize health risks, the agency said, according to Bloomberg News. Kraft produces Planters products.

We just wrote about recent recalls over potentially Salmonella-contaminated pistachios. Those recalls were implemented by Western Mixers Inc. and Tom & Glasser Inc., noted Bloomberg News.

Although the agency is not looking at any one producer, according to its just-released filing, it did discuss recalls that occurred from 2009 to 2012 that included products such as pine nuts, pistachios, shelled hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, and macadamias Bloomberg News wrote. “These outbreaks, published reports of Salmonella in tree nuts destined for human consumption and recalls emphasize the need to assess the risk of salmonellosis associated with tree nuts intended for human consumption, and to evaluate the appropriate risk-based preventive controls,” the FDA said. Salmonellosis is the illness associated with the Salmonella pathogen.

Salmonella—which is typically passed from animal feces, typically chickens, and can contaminate water and produce—is the most common food born pathogen in the United States. Lower moisture foods do not typically support the growth of the Salmonella pathogen; however, small amounts of Salmonella can be found in raw nuts because of the way in which the produce is cultivated and harvested, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association in a 2010 industry handbook, Bloomberg News reported.

The FDA said that what led to recent Salmonella outbreaks involving tree nuts is unclear and the agency is seeking scientific data concerning the risk assessment from industry, consumer groups, and other experts, according to Bloomberg News.

Salmonella-contaminated food may not look or smell spoiled; however, consumption of food contaminated with the Salmonella bacteria may cause the food borne illness known as Salmonellosis. Symptoms of Salmonella poisoning include fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea and usually lasts four to seven days. Most persons recover without antibiotic treatment; however, the diarrhea can be severe, and hospitalization may be required. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems may develop more serious illness with the infection potentially spreading from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites; this can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

Some 42,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported annually with about 400 people dying from the contamination, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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