The Food Safety Program & Almond Pasteurization
The health and safety of consumers is the number one priority of the California Almond industry. The California Almond industry, through the Almond Board of California (ABC), has worked with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and leading experts to develop and maintain a rigorous, industry-wide food safety plan designed to provide consumers with the safest possible almonds from California. Our comprehensive almond food safety program addresses the entire supply chain, recommending practices which encompass Good Agricultural Practices in our orchards; Good Manufacturing Practices in our processing plants; and pasteurization, which is the final step in our food safety program before California Almonds are shipped to our customers.
Ensuring Food Safety Throughout the System
With consumers’ health and safety as its number one priority, the Almond Board of California (ABC) worked with the USDA to institute an industry-wide pasteurization program. The purpose of this program is to ensure consumers are provided with safe, wholesome food products, free from potentially harmful levels of unsafe bacteria that can cause illness, without compromising the almond qualities that consumers expect and appreciate.
Although the U.S. food supply is among the safest worldwide, all agricultural products (such as meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables) are at some risk for potential pathogenic contamination. Almonds are no exception. To minimize this risk and safeguard the health and well-being of almond consumers, the ABC has implemented a number of proactive steps.
The California Almond through Almond Board of California industry promotes good agricultural and manufacturing practices among almond growers and handlers. Resources are provided on how to minimize potential contamination while growing and harvesting almonds, and how to ensure almonds are processed, packed and sold under the most sanitary conditions. ABC works closely with growers and processors to encourage implementation of standardized food safety practices on the farm, in processing and manufacturing plants, and during transport.
To further reduce the potential for contamination and ensure consumer safety, the California Almond industry, working with the USDA, expanded their food safety program in 2007 to include a mandatory pasteurization program. The purpose of this program is to ensure consumers are provided with safe, wholesome food products, free from potentially harmful levels of unsafe bacteria that can cause illness, without compromising the almond qualities that consumers expect and appreciate. Pasteurization has been proven to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Independent nutritional lab analyses commissioned by the Almond Board indicate that the pasteurization processes adopted do not degrade the taste, quality or nutritional value of almonds.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with a technical review panel comprised of almond
scientific experts, are responsible for evaluating and approving the treatment processes that demonstrate
effectiveness in achieving a reduction of possible contamination in almonds while not impacting their
quality and sensory attributes. To date, FDA has approved oil roasting, dry roasting, blanching, steam
processing and propylene oxide (PPO) processes as acceptable forms of pasteurization for almonds.
Organic almonds will be pasteurized using treatments, such as steam pasteurization, that meet the USDA
Organic Program’s national standards. Other forms of pasteurization continue to be researched,
evaluated and tested. Almond pasteurization does not include irradiation.
Almond Board worked over several years with leading experts and weighed all perspectives and issues in
developing this industry-wide pasteurization program. The process included a public comment period after which the USDA took all comments into account before making their final decision to approve the plan. The almond pasteurization program became mandatory for the California industry on September 1, 2007, and was implemented on a voluntary basis over the previous two years. All almonds are pasteurized before being sold to consumers in North America.
Approved pasteurization methods include:
- Oil roasting, dry roasting, and blanching: These traditional processes provide the necessary
reduction in harmful bacteria while providing consumers with the same product they have come to
know and love.
- Steam processing: These treatments are surface treatments only. Multiple proprietary steam
treatments are currently being utilized by the industry which meets USDA Organic Program
standards. The short bursts of steam do not impact the nutritional integrity of the almond. These
treatments do not “cook” proteins or destroy vitamins and minerals. The nutritional and sensory
characteristics of the almonds remain unchanged when treated with steam.
- Propylene Oxide (PPO) treatment: PPO is also a surface treatment which has been approved for
use on foods since 1958, and is widely used for a variety of foods such as other nuts, cocoa
powder and spices. PPO is very effective at reducing harmful bacteria on almonds and poses no
risk to consumers. In fact, PPO residue dissipates after treatment. The effectiveness and safety
of this process was revalidated in July 2006, when PPO underwent a stringent re-registration
process with the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA confirmed that PPO poses no health
risk. The treatment does not affect the nutritional and sensory characteristics of almonds.
A number of other commonly consumed foods, such as milk, juice, eggs and canned foods are
pasteurized in order to ensure safety by removing bacteria that can make consumers ill. While almond
pasteurization achieves this same safety factor, the processes used for almonds are slightly different in
that they only treat the surface.
Since consumers choose almonds for their taste as well as their health benefits, to augment the
government research findings the Almond Board has invested in independent expert and lab analyses of
pasteurized and unpasteurized almonds. As stated above, those tests reveal that there is no degradation
of the taste, quality or nutritional value of treated almonds.
With regard to labeling, the FDA regulates package labeling guidelines for all foods. The FDA has
determined that raw almonds, whether treated via the steam or PPO methods or untreated, may be
labeled raw under FDA guidelines. The Almond Board does not have any consumer labeling authority
over almonds or products made with almonds. Individual manufacturers and retailers determine their own
labeling practices based on FDA requirements.
Pasteurization of California Almonds Rule from the Federal Register
Under Federal Law and through the Almond Board of California (ABC), almond handlers shall subject their almonds to a treatment process or processes that achieve, in total, a minimum 4-log reduction of Salmonella bacteria prior to shipment in North America (U.S., Canada, and Mexico). The ABC acknowledges that only treatment processes that have demonstrated a 5-log reduction of Salmonella bacteria, as acknowledged by a letter of determination issued by the Food and Drug Administration, meet the definition of “pasteurization.” However, to ease reading of this content when referring to a treatment process that achieves a minimum 4-log reduction of Salmonella bacteria, the word “pasteurization” is used as a generic term.