The Almond Board of California (ABC) has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to delay the implementation of the mandatory almond pasteurization program for six months — from the original Sept. 1, 2007 deadline to March 1, 2008.

The deferral would provide almond-handling facilities with additional time to complete the required validation and certification for pasteurization so all industry members are in full compliance.

The Aug. 1 requested delay is pending USDA approval.

“After thorough discussion amongst industry members, the request by the Almond Board of California to delay the implementation by six months was made to ensure that there is sufficient capacity in certified pasteurization facilities to deliver an uninterrupted supply of safe, healthy, and delicious California almonds,” said Richard Waycott, ABC president and chief executive officer.

The request strictly affects the implementation date of the mandatory rule, Waycott said, and does not revise or reopen specific provisions of the approved pasteurization program.

The purpose of the almond pasteurization plan is to ensure that consumers are provided with safe, wholesome food products — free from potentially harmful levels of bacteria that can cause illness, without compromising the almond qualities and attributes that consumers expect and appreciate, the ABC said.

The mandatory pasteurization program was initiated voluntarily by the industry and many industry members are already delivering pasteurized almonds.

“The California almond industry maintains its unwavering commitment to food safety. The pasteurization implementation action reflects the broad consensus amongst the industry to implement the pasteurization program agreed to and approved by the USDA,” Waycott said.

The ABC administers a grower-enacted federal marketing order under USDA supervision.