The USDA is attempting to require that all
almonds grown in California to be sterilized with various
pasteurization techniques in response to Salmonella outbreaks in 2001
and 2004 that were traced to raw almonds. All almonds, with two
exceptions, would undergo a sterilization process that includes
chemicals and/or high-temperature treatments. Organic raw almonds will
not be fumigated and undergo only the steam-heat treatment thus they
are no longer “raw,” and small-scale growers can sell “raw” almonds
only direct from farm stands.

Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, is
requesting that the FDA reopen the proceeding for public comment as the
proposed change was not effectively communicated to the public. In
fact, only 18 comments were received on the proposal all from the
almond industry which, unlike consumers, retailers and other
organizations concerned with food safety, received a personal letter or
fax from the USDA on the proposal and an invitation to comment.

In light of the recent foodborne illnesses
involving peanut butter, spinach, lettuce and pet foods there is little
doubt that consumers are more concerned about food safety than ever,
which certainly offers the USDA a window of opportunity to institute
stricter regulations and different technologies to reduce food safety
problems. Most food safety issues occur when contaminated water, soil
or transportation and handling equipment come into contact with the
product. But, according to The Cornucopia Institute, this USDA
regulation might well be  ignoring the root causes of food
contamination  “dangerous and unsustainable farming practices.”

raised about the proposal include the costs of the chemical and heat
treatments (a propylene oxide chamber runs up from $500,000 to
$1,250,000 and a roasting line from $1,500,000 to $2,500,000) as well
as transportation costs to and from treatment facilities, which would
place a heavier burden on small farmers as opposed to big business.

more important is that the most common method of sterilizing almonds is
by propylene oxide fumigation, which is listed by the International
Agency on Cancer Research as a possible carcinogen. It is banned in the
European Union, Canada and Mexico, among many others, from being used
in the treatment of food for human consumption.

agree with The Institute’s main contention these almonds which would
be labeled “raw” is deceptive to those who wish to buy truly raw,
unprocessed almonds. It’s time to separate out the technology benefits
(or drawbacks) from labeling issues and allow shoppers to be able to
trust what’s listed on the package as being “the truth, the whole truth
and nothing but the truth.”