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Kraft Foods Knew of Salmonella in September

Apr 6, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Salmonella had been found in Kraft Foods Inc. pistachios over six months ago, but the firm did not advise its suppler Setton Pistachio until late last month, said the Associated Press (AP).  A spokeswoman for Kraft said the firm did not realize that pistachios in a trail mix were contaminated with the dangerous pathogen until recently, when it finally informed Setton Pistachio, the AP noted.

Lee Cohen, production manager for Setton’s sister plant, said its pistachios tested positive for salmonella in the Kraft product last September and were found in a mix containing fruits and nuts as well as salmonella-tainted cherries, reported the AP.  After another Kraft manufacturer in Illinois found salmonella in some pistachios last month, Setton Pistachio recalled over two million pounds of its roasted pistachios.  Setton Pistachio claimed it never intentionally provided tainted nuts to Kraft.

Kraft spokeswoman, Susan Davison, said its manufacturer—Georgia Nut Company—detected salmonella in Kraft Back to Nature Nantucket Blend trail mix in September, but that six months of testing were conducted to find the origin of the contamination before the recall could be issued.  The U.S. Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) assistant commissioner for food safety, Dr. David Acheson, said the agency learned about the problem last week, according to the AP.

The AP explained that federal and state laws do not mandate food manufacturers to conduct safety tests on products and, said Acheson, when a company does detect contamination, there are no reporting requirements.  Setton International Foods, located in Commack, New York, recalled several lots of bulk-packaged mixed nuts, chocolate-covered pistachios, and shelled pistachios processed by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc, in California, on Friday reported Reuters, following the nationwide recall of pistachios on Tuesday.

The Commack plant is under investigation and, according to an earlier Newsday report, failed a state sanitary inspection last month and was also investigated by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, which found live and dead cockroaches, as well as rodent feces; 16 other less serious infractions were also found. That inspection occurred on March 3, but the company continued to ship products from the plant until it received the state’s inspection report.  Newsday reported that the problems at Setton Foods are not related to the current pistachio recall, and state officials said no evidence of salmonella was found at the Long Island plant.

Roasting, said the AP, should kill salmonella in nuts unless roasting is not properly accomplished or the product is re-contaminated, for instance when the nuts come in contact with rodents or birds.

In its health alert, the FDA said the pistachio contamination involves multiple strains of salmonella.  Because the pistachios were used as ingredients in a variety of foods, it is likely this recall will impact many products, the FDA said. According to a report on, Setton of Bella Terra shipped tote bags of nuts weighing up to 2,000 pounds to 36 wholesalers nationwide.  To assist consumers, the FDA has set up a searchable database to track pistachio recalls.

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with salmonella can result in the organism entering the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis.

A spokesman from Setton International and a spokeswoman from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets said the salmonella recall in California and the findings of the New York inspection were not related.

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