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FDA Leaks New Info About Test Results

The Associated Press is reporting that federal officials confirmed they have test results confirming the existence of salmonella in “critical places” in Setton Pistachio’s California plant:

Federal officials confirmed Monday they found traces of salmonella in a central California pistachio processing plant that sparked a nationwide recall of the nut.

The Food and Drug Administration said state and federal inspectors discovered the bacteria in “critical areas” at Setton Farms of Terra Bella, Inc., the second-largest pistachio processor in the nation.

FDA officials also said they found places at the facility where raw and roasted nuts could have become cross-contaminated with salmonella.

Setton Pistachio, which sells its nuts to Kraft Foods Inc. and 35 other wholesalers across the country, temporarily shut down after voluntarily recalling more than 2 million pounds of nuts last week.

The company expanded its recall on Monday to include all raw and roasted pistachios from its 2008 crop. A company spokeswoman did not immediately return messages seeking further details.

The AP story is slightly different than what Setton wrote in its own press release which came out shortly after the AP story. It says, “Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella’s raw in-shell pistachio shipments are NOT affected by this recall expansion.” This seems to imply that it is not recalling all raw and roasted pistachios from its 2008 crop.

If true, this report seems to represent a new approach FDA is pursuing with this food safety investigation. In the past, FDA has generally released information in frequent conference calls and then followed up with announcements on its Website.

This time around they seem to be leaking information anonymously to favored reporters.

In any case this would indicate that the salmonella contamination did not originate at Georgia Nut Company where the salmonella was first detected. Still an open question — how did it get to the plant? Was this a contamination of a particular ranch?

Also not yet known — who was auditing this plant? How is it that they did not catch the places where raw and roasted product could become contaminated?

This has been a food safety investigation with information dripping out hour by hour. One gets the impression that neither the FDA nor the company are telling all they know.

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