Infuriating – Factory Shipped Tainted Pistachios Knowingly

Pistachio nuts are displayed on March 31, 2009...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

The pistachio salmonella recall of March could have been avoided had Setton, the California based processor, taken proper corrective action.

Recap: On the heels of the peanut butter recalls of January, March became pistachio recall month with about 2 million pounds of pistachios that Setton distributed having to be returned/destroyed. The pistachios were suspected of salmonella infection after testing by Kraft foods, a Setton customer, tested a shipment.

Turns out that Setton, according to the FDA, knew about salmonella contamination as early as October 2008, a full 6 months before the recalls even began. So why did they continue shipping?

What you need to know:

What does Setton do? They receive “fresh” pistachios from growers in California. These pistachios may sometimes be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as salmonella.  Setton processes the pistachios as follows: roast, package, and ship. Salmonella should be zapped by the roasting process. Ideally, no worries. However, if the unroasted pistachios come in contact with the roasted pistachios for some reason, the problems begin.

What did Setton do when it discovered its roasted pistachios were tainted? They re-roasted them and then shipped. That did not help. Did Setton try to figure out why the roasted nuts were tainted in the first place? Was there some sort of cross contamination that the plant mangers were unaware of?

Most likely Setton tried to rectify problems that may have caused the contamination. However, at some point the cost of fixing these problems became prohibitive.

This is where some owners/managers start cutting corners. If the risk seems tiny, why spend a million dollars renovating a production line?

Unfortunately, judgment can get cloudy in the face of profit and loss pressures. That’s why strong regulation and harsh punishments are needed. If a food factory owner holds the power of life and death in her hands, she must fear not only the business bottom line, but also the personal consequences of her decisions.

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