U.S. News

FDA warns of salmonella risk in pistachio brands

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. consumers should avoid two brands of pistachios tied to a salmonella-related recall because they may have been repackaged and sold in airports and hotels, the Food and Drug Administration said.

A bag of pistachio nuts is shown in San Francisco, California March 31, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The federal agency identified the suspect brands late on Monday as California Prime Produce and Orange County Orchards, which were repacked by Orca Distribution West Inc of Anaheim, California.

The potentially tainted pistachios came from Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, California, which issued a nationwide recall of its products in late March after salmonella was found in some nuts.

The bacteria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

The FDA said it discovered the potential problem at Orca after conducting a follow-up audit of Setton and that it issued the warning because the company had failed to alert the public that it was recalling the products.

“The company (Orca) did not publicly announce its recall. We are warning consumers not to eat these brands of pistachio,” FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said on Tuesday in a telephone interview.

Jan Caselli, who heads Orca, said the company took swift action after learning in April that there might be problems with its pistachio products.

“We immediately pulled what we had out there and replaced it,” Caselli said. Orca and those selling its products have received no customer complaints of illnesses tied to the company’s products, she added.

The FDA has come under increased scrutiny for its oversight of U.S. food safety, following a steady stream of high-profile outbreaks of food poisoning since 2006 involving lettuce, peppers, spinach, peanuts and peanut butter.

Last week, a U.S. House panel approved a proposal that would broaden the FDA’s regulatory authority, and give the agency the power to order recalls. The recall at Setton, the nation’s second largest pistachio processor, was voluntary.

More than 660 products have been linked to that recall.

The FDA only has enough staff to conduct annual inspections of 7,000 of the 150,000 U.S. food processing plants and warehouses and often relies on state inspectors and the firms themselves to issue food safety alerts to the public.

Last week, Nestle’s U.S. baking division recalled all varieties of its Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough after the FDA warned of the risk of E. coli bacterial contamination.

As of Monday, 70 people in 30 states had become ill from eating raw refrigerated cookie dough.

An estimated 76 million people in the United States get sick every year with foodborne illness and 5,000 die, according to the CDC.

Editing by Andrew Stern and Paul Simao