Sun, Apr 05, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Kraft needed 18 months to identify origin of salmonella


Kraft Foods Inc, the company whose testing led to the nationwide pistachio recall, said on Friday it first heard there was salmonella in its trail mix in late 2007, but could not trace the possible source to tainted nuts from California until two weeks ago.

Workers at one of Kraft’s manufacturers in Illinois turned up a contaminated batch of fruits and nuts in December 2007. Then, in September, another positive sample appeared.

Only after thousands of tests could the company pinpoint the source for the second positive test as California-based Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc, Kraft spokeswoman Susan Davison said.

Last week, the food products giant recalled or destroyed all suspect foods and notified its suppliers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which on Monday issued a national warning against eating the nuts.

“If we did detect salmonella, of course we would never ship our products,” Davison said. “We conducted extensive testing of all our food and we were just unable to zero in until March that pistachios were the root cause.”

On Friday, Lee Cohen, a production manager for Setton’s sister company in New York, said Kraft did not tell Setton until recently that they had detected salmonella-tainted pistachios last year. The company later retracted his statement without explanation.

Setton, the second-largest pistachio processor in the nation, sells its nuts to Kraft and 35 other wholesalers across the country, which use them in everything from ice cream to cake mixes. As FDA officials scour its records and swab its factory, the plant has temporarily shut down after recalling more than 1 million kilograms of nuts.

No pistachio-related illnesses have been reported.

Also on Friday, the FDA sent out a letter to the pistachio industry reminding nut processors to follow good manufacturing practices to protect consumers, something food safety experts called welcome guidance.

David Acheson, FDA’s assistant commissioner for food safety, said Kraft first told the administration about the problems last week.

Neither federal nor state laws require food manufacturers to test the safety of their products or to report any findings of contamination, though many do if they plan to recall a product, Acheson said.

“If they find problems in a product prior to shipment, they’ll pull it back and destroy it,” Acheson said.

Kraft determined pistachios caused last year’s problem in March, when their manufacturer in Illinois detected salmonella for the third time — this time in the nuts, the only common ingredient between the second and third batch of trail mix, Davison said.

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