Proof of Salmonella at California Pistachio Plant

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc.—the California firm linked to the ongoing, nationwide pistachio recall—is confirmed to have been contaminated with a <"">salmonella pathogen. The Wall Street Journal reported that federal health officials have proof that Setton Pistachio was contaminated with the Salmonella Montevideo strain.

Three samples taken from equipment at Setton Pistachio tested positive with Salmonella Montevideo, according to David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) associate commissioner for foods, said the Journal. The Salmonella Montevideo strain is the same strain Kraft Foods Inc. found in products supplied by Setton, the Journal noted. Health officials continue to work to determine if the contaminated pistachios are linked to any of the outbreaks.

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. is the second-largest supplier of pistachios in the country and sells its nuts to Kraft Foods Inc. and 35 other wholesalers nationwide, making it difficult to determine exactly how may products are affected by the recall. Because of this, said the Journal, the FDA is warning consumer not to eat any products containing pistachios. The FDA is also warning consumers not to eat pistachios and wholesalers, retailers, and operators of restaurants and food service establishments have also been advised against selling or serving any pistachios or pistachio products until they can figure out whether they came from Setton.

The FDA said that, to date, there have been no confirmed cases of salmonellosis associated with the Setton Pistachio products. Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis.

Meanwhile, said the Journal, Dr. Acheson reported that about 50 patients have fallen ill with the Montevideo strain since September—not an unusual number based on prior statistics—and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to speak to patients who recently became ill; one patient in Connecticut did consume pistachio products.

The FDA does not usually issue a recall in advance of proving a link between human illness and product contamination; however, according to Dr. Acheson, an exception was made in this case, “Industry needs to understand that they have a responsibility to produce a safe product, and when they don’t, we need to be moving quickly and decisively,” quoted the Journal.

According to an earlier Reuters piece, the FDA confirmed that state and federal inspectors found the salmonella bacteria in “critical areas” at Setton Pistachio and also said they found places at the facility where raw and roasted nuts could have become cross-contaminated with salmonella.

Setton Pistachio is sending recall notices to its commercial customers who received recalled bulk products with instructions for returning or destroying the recalled products and for notifying their customers of the recall. Firms that have further mixed, used as ingredients, repackaged, or distributed the recalled bulk products are being advised to recall those products and contact their local FDA recall coordinator. For retail products, consumers should return them to the place of purchase or destroy them.

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