USDA keeps start date for almond treatment rule
Despite vehement opposition by California growers, a new U.S. Department of Agriculture rule requiring all California almonds to be pasteurized will go into effect Sept. 1., federal officials said late last week.
Growers, represented by the California Almond Board (CAB), were requesting a six-month delay in the rule to allow more time to put required equipment and processes in place.
The USDA's rule is an attempt to prevent salmonella outbreaks such as those in 2001 and 2004 that were traced to raw almonds. Adding to the growers worry is that this year's bumper crop of 1.33 billion pounds of almonds, worth an estimated $1.4 billion will essentially be the guinea pig for the new rule.
Federal officials said in a letter to CAB Thursday that the public health concern over another salmonella outbreak outweighed the economic considerations of implementing the rule.
“While we understand the board’s concerns, USDA also wants to ensure that the quality and safety of almonds and almond products in the marketplace continue to improve,” said Robert Keeney, deputy administrator of the department’s fruit and vegetable programs, in the letter. “These goals require measures to help reduce the potential of a third salmonella outbreak linked to almonds.”
Consumers who prefer raw almonds protested the USDA decision and organized a national letter-writing campaign asking the agency to reconsider.
The rule requires almond growers to treat their harvested crops with a process similar to that used on milk, juice and eggs. The shelled and hulled nuts are exposed to a burst of steam that flash-heats their surface to more than 200 degrees, killing any contaminates. A second method allows the use of a gas to treat the almonds.
The USDA is allowing facilities that have not received final CAB approval to treat almonds this year — a move the growers believe may help is processing this year's huge crop.