2017 Marks a Decade of Protecting Public Health Through Mandatory Almond Pasteurization
A groundbreaking mandatory pasteurization program created by Almond Board of California (ABC) and its strategic partners has supported an enviable industry-wide food safety record over the last decade. Since the program’s launch, there have been zero outbreaks of foodborne illness attributed to California Almonds. Today, more than 200 treatment processes have been validated for use on almonds following specific guidelines and review by ABC’s Technical Expert Review panel.
The almond industry initiated these efforts in the early 2000s, when Salmonella concerns were intensifying across the food industry. At the time, conventional wisdom suggested that low moisture foods, such as nuts and seeds, did not pose a threat, since the microorganisms of concern could not grow in these products. ABC engaged food safety experts, USDA and research partners to holistically identify potential risks and develop strategies for control. This collaboration ultimately resulted in the mandatory pasteurization program for Salmonella reduction and implementation of best practices, including Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) for growers and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) for processors, as well as updated HACCP guidelines and Pathogen Environmental Monitoring (PEM) resources.
“The health and wellbeing of almond consumers matters deeply to everyone in the California Almond industry. We’re not afraid to tackle food safety challenges head-on, aided by the expertise of our partners, and we’re proud of our pioneering best practices,” said Tim Birmingham, director, Quality Assurance and Industry Services, Almond Board of California. “In response to concerns about Salmonella, we conducted research and led extensive discussions with industry, university and government experts before adopting mandatory pasteurization. After 10 years with zero outbreaks, we’re grateful that we took action.”
From 2007 to 2017, ABC invested more than $5 million in food quality and safety research. It remains firmly committed to educating industry members on how to produce the safest and highest quality almonds possible. All findings are translated into clear, practical guidance for growers and processors.
“I find it especially gratifying to see research results put into action. Almond Board of California transforms their food safety and quality research into practical resources that growers and processors actually use,” said Dr. Linda Harris, chair and specialist in Cooperative Extension in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. Harris conducts laboratory research and provides extension education and practicable advice to growers and the almond processing and affiliated industry organizations.
“I’m proud of the industry-wide steps we’ve taken to improve food safety. Those investments protect almond consumers and allow us to focus on delivering the quality, freshness and great taste they enjoy,” said Martin Pohl, a Central Valley almond grower and president of Hughson Nut. “As a result, we’ve seen tremendous industry growth over the last decade.”
The California Almond industry will continue evolving its best practices as new scientific discoveries unfold. The industry also is well positioned to comply with FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) because it has proactively, voluntarily created and implemented so many programs that are already in line with FSMA requirements.
The Produce Safety rule under FSMA goes into effect in January 2018 for large-scale orchards or huller/shellers considered farms. Preventive Controls compliance for larger businesses began September 2016 and mid-sized compliance started September of this year. To date, more than 100 industry members have completed the FDA recognized Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) training, hosted by ABC.
As FSMA compliance periods take effect, ABC continues to help growers, processors and other stakeholders understand which FSMA rules apply, what actions to take to ensure compliance and when specific requirements come into effect for different operations.