Judge To Growers: Pasteurize Your Almonds

Finally, you can nosh on delicious almonds safe in the knowledge that they’re pasteurized and salmonella free. A federal judge this week tossed out a lawsuit aimed at blocking new rules from the Department of Agriculture requiring growers to pasteurize their almonds. Growers are now whining that U.S. consumers area about to get hooked on raw yet dangerously delicious European almonds.

The plaintiffs had argued in their lawsuit that the Department of Agriculture had overstepped the scope of its regulatory authority when it implemented the sterilization rule. But a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, Ellen Segal Huvelle, dismissed the case on Monday on technical grounds – finding that the almond growers among the plaintiffs have no right to judicial review and that the handlers must seek an administrative remedy before coming to court.

[…]

Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who for 15 years has represented plaintiffs in major food safety cases, including the 2004 salmonella cases that were traced to almonds, said Thursday that pasteurization is necessary.

“I can understand from dealing with the raw juice and raw milk and raw food people that they are very adamant that their products are better than pasteurized products. But in this instance, the evidence is very clear that this is the type of product that needs to be pasteurized,” he said.

Do you care whether your almonds are pasteurized or not? Did you even know almonds could be pasteurized?

Judge rules U.S. almonds must be pasteurized [San Francisco Chronicle]

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  1. chris101d says:

    How DOES one pasturize an almond? It seems like it would effect the overall texture if heat were involved.

    • ludwigk says:

      @chris101d: You pasteurize anything by a combination of heat and time sufficient to kill whatever the target microorganism is in your substance.

      My guess would be toasting.

  2. fatcop says:

    Everything I Want to Do is Illegal. Buy it. Read it.

  3. N.RobertMoses says:

    Pasteurize almonds? That’s nuts!

  4. Aphex242 says:

    @N.RobertMoses: Ouch.

  5. kbrook says:

    This doesn’t affect me – I’m allergic to tree nuts. As long as Enstroms Toffee doesn’t start tasting different, I don’t see the ruling affecting those around me. But if it does, believe me when I tell you there will be some epic bitching coming from southwest Michigan.

  6. SteelersAreGo says:

    This really isn’t what the court said. Without getting too much into Administrative Law, first the farmers have to go seek adjudication in front of a DoA official, and only if that doesn’t go their way, can they get actual judicial review. This very same judge in x years may completely side with the almond growers.

    • LandruBek says:

      @SteelersAreGo: Yes, the headline is a bit off, but the summary was accurate: the growers don’t get judicial review at this step. Since pasteurization will probably cost them big bucks, I’m sure they’ll be back in court soon enough.

      My own lawsuit, by the way, is still pending, the one demanding that almond growers homogenize their nuts. *tee hee hee*

  7. From the cubicle of PGibbons says:

    I read a story that was focused on this as it applies to organic nuts. Basically, the organic growers wanted to *steam* them to kill bacteria, but the Feds insisted on pasteurization across the board (which is claimed to kill the flavor, for those who like them raw).

    But there is no requirement that IMPORTED nuts be pasteurized, meaning domestic growers are now on an uneven playing field. I could never figure out why “raw” almonds taste so different than those straight off the tree – though it was just the chemicals they bathe them in before packaging, but further treatment with pasteurization would certainly also affect the taste.

  8. veronykah says:

    Just wondering WHY would salmonella be a problem in almonds?
    Couldn’t the outside be washed before shellng, therefore eliminating the incidence of salmonella.
    Doesn’t it bother other Americans that somehow ALL our food can be contaminated?
    Europeans aren’t eating irradiated and pasteurized food all the time and I don’t hear of huge outbreaks of salmonella there….
    Seems there is a larger problem here….

    • lordargent says:

      @veronykah: Europeans aren’t eating irradiated and pasteurized food all the time and I don’t hear of huge outbreaks of salmonella there….

      Eating all of that non irradiated and pasteurized food boosts their immune system. Salmonella probably gets taken out by white blood cells in full riot gear carrying.

    • floraposte says:

      @veronykah: All everybody’s food can be contaminated. That’s the nature of food. Europe has salmonella outbreaks too; they just don’t get much attention in the U.S. because it doesn’t affect our eating or buying habits.

      Washing can be helpful, but it’s not really sufficient to destroy salmonella, and it’s possible that it’s not just on the surface (it’s not simply on the shell in eggs, for instance). We’re advised to wash our hands because we can’t really boil them, and frankly the way that most people wash their hands isn’t likely to make much difference anyway.

    • oneandone says:

      @veronykah: I was wondering the same thing. Maybe someone more knowledgeable about food processing in the U.S. vs Europe knows the answer; my guess (based on nothing more than supermarket shopping in several countries) is that most food ingredients in the U.S. are conglomerated into giant batches and then redistributed. In Europe, it seems more like smaller companies with more independent supply lines, so that contamination in one area would have an isolated effect. (Instead of spinach & jalepeno craziness we have here one a couple of plots get contaminated). But I’m just guessing.

  9. cmdrsass says:

    This is stupid. It’s a raw food. Eating raw food has inherent risks. For some foods this risk is greater than others. For pete’s sake, how many people get salmonella from raw almonds?

  10. FuryOfFirestorm says:

    It’s just like mom used to say- “Don’t put those filthy nuts in your mouth, dear!”

  11. supergaijin says:

    re:veronykah
    Yeah, all those carefree Europeans have is Mad Cow Disease. Lucky bastards.

  12. hypochondriac says:

    I’m surprised that Salmonella can be found in Almonds. I’ve always assumed it came from infected poultry and poultry feces. How would Salmonella even get into almonds? Are they watering the plants with water infected with chicken feces?

    • floraposte says:

      @hypochondriac: Well, remember that it just got into a large amount of peanuts in the U.S., so we have clear recent demonstration that it ain’t just [us] chickens. It can be carried directly to humans by pets as well as by food, and it can be passed from person to person. It can also get into water, and when that water irrigates a crop or becomes part of production (the Cadbury’s plant apparently had a recall several years ago with chocolate tainted by water from a leaky pipe), the salmonella gets a free downstream trip to the consumer.

  13. FuryOfFirestorm says:

    When we get sick, we’ll puke together

    We’ll have burning diarrhea forever

    I’ll always be your friend, throwing up blood until the end

    If we die, we’ll die together

    You couldn’t stand my salmonella…ella…ella…ella..

    ay…ay…ay…

    my salmonella…ella…ella…ella…

  14. Anonymous says:

    Raw food contains beneficial bacteria and enzymes that aid in digestion. Pasteurization destroys these. If grown and handled properly there is no need for pasteurization. This is a stupid ruling that will allow large agro-business to continue their poor growing and processing practices at the expense of small farmers who are already doing the right thing and don’t require pasteurization. Why can’t we just label things and let the people decide?

  15. Brendan Long says:

    Some of us would prefer the option of eating raw food. If I want to take the risk, why not?

    • bogart27 says:

      @Brendan Long: Because when you get infected with Salmonella and you accidentally infect a child or old person…
      Actually, I don’t even know if you can give someone else Salmonella poisoning.

  16. veronykah says:

    re: floraposte
    Back to WHY would salmonella be in almonds?
    “Salmonella is an enteric bacterium, which means that it lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds. Salmonella bacteria are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces or foods that have been handled by infected food service workers who have practiced poor personal hygiene.”
    Wouldn’t a washing of some sort take off any salmonella on the shell? Where else would it be?

    re: supergaijin
    Mad cow and salmonella have nothing to do with each other. Last I checked you had to eat BEEF to get mad cow, from the sounds of it you can eat peanut butter, eggs, spinach and pretty much anything else and get salmonella here.
    There is obviously a fundamental problem with how we get our food here if you can get sick and die from peanut butter and spinach.

    • floraposte says:

      @veronykah: If it’s in the water supply, it may be entering the system of the plant itself. Or it could be on the shells as a result of water or worker transmission; if the nuts are then shelled, it’s extremely difficult to ensure the shell never contacts the meat.

      And washing doesn’t reliably kill salmonella, unless you’re taking the temperature high enough (which is pretty much what the organic producers are doing with the steaming of the nuts) and exposing the surface long enough. The shells aren’t also an impervious surface–they’ve got nooks and crannies–so they’re nearly impossible to clean; plus they’re not reliably impermeable, so you’re going to be showering the nutmeat with some of the now-contaminated washing water. Then you’d have the issue of what you do with all that contaminated wash water.

      I don’t have a stand on the pasteurization issue here, but if you’re trying to avoid salmonella, washing’s not going to help you much.

  17. HogwartsAlum says:

    Not another salmonella food thing. Please.

    I just found out that my new favorite health food store has a thingy that will grind almond butter right there in front of you. I wanted some and now I have to be all careful and stuff!

    DAMN!

  18. magic8ball says:

    I did not know almonds could be pasteurized, and always wondered what was meant by “raw” almonds. I guess that answers that question. So if I buy something with almonds in it, am I to assume they’ve been pasteurized unless the packaging says otherwise? Or am I currently supposed to assume that they are non-pasteurized unless the packaging says otherwise?

  19. tangent4 says:

    Instead of reducing the risk of contamination by changing the food and making it less nutritious (I doubt you can sprout pasteurized almonds) maybe they should be focusing on the cause – unsafe farming/storage/processing.

  20. lincolnparadox says:

    This is one more reason why the ag industry need to be regulated by outside inspectors again. Since Reagan’s 2nd term, sector after sector of the ag industry has been deregulated to save the federal government money. This deregulated started with reducing the inspection staff (and reducing the number of inspections per year). It eventually culminated with the “self-regulation” of each industry. Each factory has on-site inspection teams who file their reports with the federal government.

    10 years later we have a bacterial scare in some sector of the food industry every month of the year. Self-regulation does not work, in any industry. I don’t want some all-powerful government that dictates every minute detail of production. But I would like my food and drugs to be safe to consume.

    If the industry is resistant to on-site inspections, then I say that the government should start testing products at the point of distribution.

  21. LintySoul says:

    A local distributor used to provide organic raw almond butter, yummy stuff. Then the pasteurization requirements started, the almond butter suffered a shorter self life, it goes rancid much much faster now that it is pasteurized. I imagine this is due to lack of any actual beneficial bacteria.
    The food distributor lost a good chunk of money with this switch. Not many people around my parts want to eat the pasteurized stuff.
    Luckily we’ve got filbert groves everywhere in town and we can grind our own filbert butter. Aka Hazelnuts…

    • babysealclubber says:

      @veronykah: My family grows them. It’s almost never a problem, but sometimes stuff happens.

      The potential for danger comes when the nuts are harvested. They have to dry on the ground before they will be accepted by the sheller/huller, so they may lay there for a week. If it rains during this time, there are lots of pathogens that could flourish. Luckily this is a rare occurrence in this part of California during the tail end of summer, but northern farms have more problems.

      Other sources of contamination are a little more disgusting. Coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, etc. live in the orchards which cover several hundred thousand acres. I’ll just say… shit happens.

      Certain varieties are considerably less susceptible to this problem. These varieties have completely sealed shells, so the almond itself is relatively isolated from it’s environment. Unfortunately the most popular variety of almond, ‘Non-Pareil,’ is a paper shell type. This means that it has little protection against a large number of diseases and insects.

      I absolutely supported the USDA’s original decision to pasteurize, and this judges ruling is a great move to ensure almond food safety. It’s cheap, and only affects about 5 percent of U.S. almond production. The other 95 percent of almonds are cooked, so it’s not necessary.

      I don’t know who these growers are who opposed the ruling, I know there were some. A quick google search displayed a large number of raw food consumers who were upset. That’s fine by me, they can buy European almonds. The price and quality aren’t really that different, so I don’t know what the fuss is all about.

      From an industry perspective, risking contamination is unacceptable. If it occurred on a wide scale, demand would absolutely plummet. The spinach industry experienced that, and that’s a relatively short term investment. Almond orchards last from 20-30 years and are a billion and a half dollar industry here.

      That was a bit longer than I intended, sorry :/

      • babysealclubber says:

        @babysealclubber: Also, most large growers have implemented systems to try to reduce exposure to a minimum. Severely water stressing the trees before harvest has been helps dry the nuts before shaking. (tee-hee, nuts/shaking)

        Conditioning units, which are becoming more popular, help them dry while on the ground, and several growers are experimenting with harvesting systems that keep them from ever touching the ground at all. Unfortunately it looks like the latter idea will only work with very young orchards, but perhaps something will be worked out soon.

  22. Keter says:

    OMG. Raw almonds retain enzymes and micronutriets that will be destroyed by pasteurization. This will force everyone who is following a raw foods diet to find another primary protein source. I’m not a pure raw foods person, but I do try to eat the least processed, rawest foods I can find, and it has really helped my health. It seems the FDA is determined to find every good supplement and outlaw it or regulate it either out of existence or into a non-beneficial form, and now is going after every living, wholesome food to do the same. This in a time when studies are finally starting to prove that one of the reasons for the obesity epidemic is due to processed foods which are deficient in enzymes, beneficial bacteria, and micronutrients. Hey Feds: get yer corrupt hands off of our food!

    • Plates says:

      @Keter: No doubt Obama is probably getting some sort of kickbacks. That is The Chicago Way!

    • babysealclubber says:

      @Keter: The body doesn’t absorb enzymes. It breaks them down into amino acids.

      What micro-nutrients are removed during heating? That doesn’t even seem possible.

  23. Gokuhouse says:

    This sucks for everyone involved….

  24. Anonymous says:

    Oh…great! With an almond grower/processor in the family I know all too well that this doesn’t just effect the importing of European almonds! In order to sell almonds to Europe, almonds cannot be pasteurized. So, there goes the almond export business. They won’t buy them that way.

    And I can personally tell you that there is a difference between the taste of a pasteurized and non pasteurized almonds.

    I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. The growers are having so much trouble out here in California, because of a lack of water, that many farmers are simply throwing in the towel with that crop.

  25. Anonymous says:

    omutens Since I am one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit I have a pretty good knowledge of the issues inviolved . Some of the previous comments are of the wall while others are right on. One issue which has not been brought up sofar is that the more everything is sterilized the less natural immunity we build up for all kinds of diseases. By the way this pasteurization rule was not forced on us by the U.S.D. A. but by farmers in the almond industry who then have the U.S.D.A. enforce the rule.
    The big boys want to make life harder for the small operators for competetive reasons.

  26. howtragic says:

    Instead of insisting that good, wholesome food be boiled to death, why doesn’t the FDA just DO THEIR JOB and actually inspect plants and growers and make sure everything is kosher?

    Personally, I’m the type of person to drink raw milk and eat plenty of other “raw” products. I grew up drinking raw milk straight from the cow and none of us kids ever got sick, and I never get sick now. Could I get sick? Of course. But I am willing to take that risk to eat the better tasting stuff.

    As far as I can tell, the vast majority of salmonella and e coli outbreaks originated at huge industrial farms or huge industrial processing plants.

    But, because the FDA is either too bribed or too stupid, they go picking on small farmers selling raw almonds or raw milk.

    We consumers ought to outraged.

    • floraposte says:

      @howtragic: The outbreaks you hear about are the ones that occur in sufficient number to draw Health Department and FDA attention; they’re by no means the only ones. And this is in response to two salmonella outbreaks from raw almonds, so it’s not like they’re being randomly picked on.

      I can see some merit to requiring a clear disclaimer rather than pasteurization, but the problem is that the contagious nature of salmonella means that it’s not just the consenting consumer at risk but also those around him/her.

  27. Chris Miller says:

    Pasteurized almonds taste like shit. Guess I’ll go back to eating Doritos. Thanks, government.

  28. kbarrett says:

    So why is the salmonella getting in? Are they serving cat-crap almonds to go with the coffee?

  29. Anonymous says:

    Why pasteurize almonds?

    Almonds are harvested from trees by vibration. They fall on the ground. They are raked up. Birds like nuts. Poop in trees and on ground. Now roll those almonds around a little. Yummy, would you like nuts with that Salmonella?

  30. jfischer says:

    Funny, I just read that irradiated food was being called “Pasteurized” by several sneaky food companies, and the FDA was allowing them to use the term.

    Heating nuts will cause them to lose flavor, no doubt about it. But are they using heat?

  31. Anonymous says:

    I buy my almonds from Spain now. $65 for 5lbs shipped when I bought 6 months ago. I should be able to control what is put in my body. I don’t need the government to tell me. Yet I am legally allowed to smoke cigarettes & cigars and drink alcohol. Amazing!

  32. zyodei says:

    Thanks, consumerist, for bringing this up.

    And a big *fuck you* for buying into the language that there is something dangerous about raw almonds, or that they are a major salmonella vector. Seriously. The interests of the consumer in this case is having access to nutritious food, not being protected from fictious threats. What happened to this site?

    Newsflash: Just because the government does something in the name the consumer, doesn’t mean they are protecting the consumer.

    It’s like a town ordering all the bakeries to put sawdust into their bread. And the newspaper printing a headline about the bakers “whining” about how now the people are going outside the town to buy bread without sawdust.

    There has NEVER been a case of an organic almond causing any sickness, even a mild one. And yet the government is destroying their nutritional value. While millions of Americans die of heart disease, cancer, etc. etc. linked to our toxic junk food supply.

    Dear America,

    Fuck you.

    Sincerely,

    USDA and FDA

    • orlo says:

      @zyodei: And pasteurization won’t help too much, since contamination can happen afterward. Peanuts are roasted, but when bird crap drains down from a leak in the roof on them after they are ground they will still contain salmonella. After pasteurization I’m sure some sloppy processor will find a way to contaminate almonds.

      The regulation is probably the result of lobbyists for large almonds processors trying to shut down smaller competitors, since their profits are too small to afford new equipment

  33. Anonymous says:

    being into raw food, which focuses on eating live enzymes and as unprocessed food as possible, i think this is an unfortuate turn of events. if the consumer wants this product, they should be able to buy it – as long as other processing risks are mitigated (raw foodists have rights too). also, will it really deal with the problem at the core: food processing and handling issues? this seems like a one-size-fits-all, makes-things-easier-for-agribusiness processing approach. are we getting to a point where everything is going to be as processed as possible? as a raw foodist, i’m sad that i won’t be able to get truly raw nuts processed in the states anymore.

  34. Foodie92 says:

    Nuts may go rancid faster when pasteurized because heat can break down lipids, a major component of nuts, NOT because all bacteria is eliminated during pasteurization. In fact, pasteurization rarely kills all bacteria in any given food.

  35. Foodie92 says:

    Pasteurization may seem like a dirty word, but it really just means “heated up to kill spoilage/pathogenic bacteria.” Pasteurized products may taste different because flavor volatiles can be lost during the heating process. Much of the legislation concerning pasteurization in the US is to protect consumers. Food companines also have a vested interest in the process due to the threat of litigation.

  36. grumpygirl says:

    Pasteurized almonds and other nuts taste nasty and go rancid faster. The nonpasteurized organic almonds from Europe are $11.00 a pound at my food co-op. Guess I’d better get used to it, although I’ll have less disposable income to be spending in this ailing economy. Too bad.

  37. Bathmat says:

    Is this the sort of thing that could be handled by food irradiation? If only our fear of all things UV and x-ray related didn’t keep us from using the technique that most cell bio labs. We did our work in hoods that used UV radiation and, er, 70% ethanol as cleaning agents.

  38. consumerfan says:

    I think raw almonds ought only be pasteurized when they go into processed food. And only just before processing.

    And label the raw almonds as being raw and provide a simple note telling consumers to roast their nuts before eating.

  39. SavitriPleiades says:

    “That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will none of them poison me,
    That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
    Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once catching disease.
    Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
    It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
    It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless succession of diseas’d corpses,
    It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
    It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
    It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.” – Walt Whitman

  40. Lizzy4e says:

    A pasteurized almond is a dead almond. You cannot sprout a dead almond. A sprouted almond is so tasty and so good for you. This ruling is a blow to those who eat “live” food.