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FoodTech Report

Volume 6 Issue 2

Ask the Expert: Almonds bounce back
after contamination recalls

Source: Almond Board of California.

Source: Almond Board of California.

Almonds are a popular natural snack lauded for their protein and essential oils, which are staples in a healthy diet. But in 2001, an almond recall occurred due to the presence of Salmonella bacteria, damaging the reputation of the California almond industry, which produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds. Although growers took necessary steps to ensure orchard cleanliness prior to harvesting almonds, foodborne pathogens are present in nature and contamination can occur at many points along the supply chain.

After a second recall in 2004, the Almond Board of California (Almond Board) launched a pasteurization research and development initiative, which lasted two years and cost the organization more than $1 million USD. The goal was to find a pasteurization solution that was scalable and protected the natural integrity of the almonds. Once the board deemed this possible, the U.S. Department of Agriculture mandated that by Sept. 1, 2007, all almonds originating from California, U.S.A., and bound for North American markets be certified as pasteurized. JBT FoodTech developed one of the few pasteurization technologies approved by the Almond Board and the USDA.

Almost one year after the regulation, Jun Weng, Ph.D., almond food safety specialist and research fellow for JBT FoodTech and Richard Waycott, chief executive officer of the Almond Board, answer common questions about the regulation’s implementation and research to solve contamination issues.

Harvesting almonds involves shaking the almonds from the tree and leaving them for eight to 10 days to dry naturally on the ground. Source: Almond Board of California.
Harvesting almonds involves shaking the almonds from the tree and leaving them for eight to 10 days to dry naturally on the ground.
Source: Almond Board of California.

Q: What are the requirements for pasteurizing almonds?
Waycott: All almonds shipped from California handlers must be pasteurized, with two major exemptions — almonds sent outside of North America; and products shipped to accepted direct verifiable users, which are companies that have their own roasting or processing procedures that have met the Almond Board’s independent evaluation criteria for pasteurization. The pasteurization standard in the almond industry is that the process must achieve a minimum 4-log reduction in Salmonella bacteria. A log reduction is a measurement of the amount of bacterial contamination eliminated during a treatment process.

Q: How has the pasteurization regulation affected almond handlers?
Waycott: Any change of this magnitude is worrisome to the industry, especially because we have been harvesting bumper crops and the implementation of this program in September 2007 was in the middle of our heaviest shipping period. Having said that, the program by all accounts has gone more smoothly than people envisioned. This next crop year should be standard operating procedure for handlers who are pasteurizing.

Q: Are many technologies available today that achieve 4-log reduction and meet the Almond Board’s requirements of scalability and sustainability of almond quality?
Waycott: The specific strain of Salmonella that we have dealt with is a very rare type and is very heat resistant. It has been more difficult than many people thought to achieve the consistent reduction we require. There are a limited number of technologies that are available today, and JBT FoodTech has developed one of them.

Weng: For more than 50 years, JBT FoodTech has combined its knowledge of proven industrial-scale technology with our food safety expertise to develop landmark innovations in multiple industries. The JSP-I Jet Stream® Almond Pasteurization System utilizes Jet Stream thermal processing with moisture control to pasteurize almonds without compromising the taste, color or texture. The JSP-I Jet Stream was approved by the Almond Board in 2005 for its ability to retain the product’s natural attributes; and by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 for 5-log reduction process. To learn more about the thermal pasteurization method of the JSP-I Jet Stream, view the article “USDA regulation mandates almond pasteurization to promote food safety,” in Vol. 5, Issue 2, of FoodTech Report.

Q: Do other nut and fruit industries have similar concerns for contamination?
I think there will continue to be more of a focus on foodborne pathogens in the fruit industry, and with that focus, an interest in whether technologies are available to eliminate risks for consumers.

Weng: Other than the almond industry, Salmonella bacteria have been associated with other dry foods such as peanut butter and pet foods. The JSP-I Jet Stream technology potentially could be used to reduce surface bacteria in other tree nuts, groundnuts, dried fruits and other dry foods.

To learn more about almond pasteurization, visit the JBT FoodTech Web site.

Do you have a question about food processing technology that you would like a JBT FoodTech expert to address in the next issue of FoodTech Report? Submit your question.

Jet Stream® is a registered trademark of JBT FoodTech.
©2008 JBT FoodTech. All rights reserved.

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