Setton Pistachio strongly disputes FDA inspection report

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Salmonella

Setton Pistachio, the company that recalled two million pounds of salmonella-tainted pistachios in March, has said it adamantly disagrees with an FDA assessment of its hygiene practices.

The Food and Drug Administration’s Form 483 inspection report said that the company had continued shipping and processing pistachios under the same conditions for six months after its own internal tests had revealed salmonella contamination. But on Tuesday, Chief Operating Officer at Setton Pistachio Mia Cohen released a statement strongly refuting the claims.

She said: “We adamantly disagree with portions of the 483 and we have responded accordingly…Our company never knowingly shipped pistachios potentially contaminated with Salmonella. All pistachios which tested positive were either reconditioned or held in quarantine and never hit the marketplace.”

‘Reconditioning’ means re-roasting the nuts, which is an accepted way of killing salmonella after it has been identified. If correct procedures are observed, roasting should kill salmonella, but it is thought that raw pistachios may have come into contact with roasted ones at the plant prior to distribution, causing the contamination.

In addition, the FDA inspection report said that the firm lacked adequate controls to ensure that the roasting step was effective against salmonella.

Food safety action

However, Cohen said that the company hired the American Council for Food Safety and Quality (also known as the DFA in California) to review its operations as soon as it received a positive test result for salmonella last October.

“They conducted hundreds of tests from October to February and could find no evidence of Salmonella in our facility,”​ she said. “There was never a suggestion from DFA not to ship.”

Although Setton Pistachio has disputed parts of the FDA’s inspection report, Cohen said the company shares the government’s commitment to food safety and has “taken aggressive steps”​ to review and implement its food safety program.

“We have invested significant resources to thoroughly modernize and redesign our processing facility in California to address all of the concerns raised by FDA as well as proactively making additional improvements,” ​she said. “Our company's commitment to food safety is absolute and unwavering in order to continue to provide the highest quality pistachios to our customers.”

No illness complaints

Despite the disagreement about conditions at the plant, the FDA has held the recall up as an example of how the food safety system should work, by recalling products before an illness outbreak, rather than reacting after an illness has spread. No illnesses have been linked to contaminated pistachios from the plant.

Cohen added that prior to the recall the company had never received an illness complaint in its 23-year history.

This stands in contrast with the Peanut Corporation of America salmonella outbreak earlier this year, when nearly 700 people were sickened by peanuts processed at its Blakely, Georgia plant, and at least nine died.

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