FDA probes California pistachio plant

March 31, 2009 6:18:51 AM PDT
Federal health officials want you to stay away from pistachios and all products containing them -- like ice cream. They're afraid the nuts could be contaminated with salmonella. SIGN-UP: Get breaking news sent to you from ABC7 News

California is the second largest producer of pistachios in the world, and it generates nearly $600 million a year - so this salmonella scare is going to be tough on this nut business.

Late Monday, federal food safety officials began warning consumers to stop eating all pistachios until it pinpoints the source of the contamination and which brands are affected.

Four different strains of salmonella have been found in the nuts sold by Setton Farms of Terra Bella, California, near Fresno. The Central Valley processor has now voluntarily recalled more than two million pounds of the nuts - which are repackaged and sold under so many brand names.

The Food and Drug Administration found out about the problem last week when Kraft foods notified that it had detected salmonella in roasted pistachios through routine drug testing. It's still unknown how many different pistachio products are affected. Setton Farms ships in bulk to wholesalers nationwide.

"There's about 35 or 36 facilities this firm is shipping to, these facilities are most likely repacking these pistachios or using them or selling them to other manufacturers to be using them in other food products as ingredients," said David Acheson, MD, Food and Drug Administration.

FDA'S advice to consumers: "avoid eating pistachio products, but hold onto those products, at this stage don't throw them out, simply hold on to them as we're learning more about them to determine if they're part of the recall."

The FDA is working with Setton Farms and California health officials and doing testing for contamination at the processor's facilities. The pistachios are sold shelled, unshelled and also used in everything from trail mix to cakes and ice cream.

So far there have been no reported salmonella illnesses linked to contaminated pistachio nuts.

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