Linda Harris, a Cooperative Extension microbiologist and food safety specialist in the food science and technology department at UC Davis, explains why it is important that all almonds coming into a processing facility be "as free from Salmonella as possible."
Two outbreaks in three years of salmonellosis involving California almonds have put the state’s No. 1 agriculturalexport on notice that constant vigilance by growers, huller/shellers, and handlers is necessary to continue to provide a safe and healthful product.
Even if a handler pasteurizes almonds, their growers still have a responsibility to protect the crop from on-farm sources of microbial contamination. Salmonella bacteria are known to be present at very low levels throughout production areas in California, says Merle Jacobs, associate director of industry relations for the Almond Board of California.
The Almond Board has developed GAPs for almond growers that target the four main sources of on-farm contamination. They are:
- Poor quality water, or poor moisture management that favors microbial growth.
- Manure as fertilizer, while not recommended by the Almond Board, should be properly composted if used.
- Fecal material from wild animals and livestock or pets.
- Poor human hygiene practices.
- Water at harvest
Overall, handlers are now being more diligent in tracking almonds by lots, and keeping accurate records of lot numbers so that any problems can be traced back to the grower, according to Jacobs. In the event of a recall, this is the information that regulators will require in order to determine the source of the problem. Another recall will not only hurt the handler involved, but also the huller, sheller, grower, and the entire almond industry. For this reason, GAPs are more important than ever. Most growers are already following many of the GAPs, and others can be phased in one at a time.
Growers should not be "intimidated into inaction," by the size and scope of the GAP’s, Jacobs advises.