After two-years of research and consultation involving California’s annual $2.5 billion almond industry, the Almond Board of California’s (ABC) proposal to create a mandatory pasteurization program to eliminate the potential for salmonella bacteria in California almonds is one step closer to reality. The plan was printed in the Dec. 6 issue of the Federal Register.

Created with broad industry input, the plan is designed to negate future chances of California almond-caused salmonella outbreaks. Salmonella outbreaks were traced to California almonds in 2001 and 2004. The industry fears a third bout could cause irreparable harm.

Because of previous salmonella incidents, regulators are focused on the almond industry.

ABC President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Waycott said during the group’s Dec. 6 industry conference in Modesto, Calif., that “Because of the two incidents we’ve had, we are on the hard drive of regulators in this country…and we’ll probably stay there. “What happens when you have a couple of (food safety) incidents, you become one of the foods that is looked at when an incident occurs.”

Waycott said food safety is the number one issue with consumers, farm groups, and regulators. He lauded the industry for the brave endeavor which if approved would take effect on Aug. 1, 2007 with the beginning of the 2007-2008 crop year (Aug. 1, 2007 – July 31, 2008).

The plan would modify quality standards under Section 981.42(b) of California’s almond marketing order (number 981).

For handlers who are shipping raw almonds directly into consumer channels whether to a retailer or a manufacturer who repacks them, the almonds must be pasteurized before leaving the handling facility.

Two exceptions would exist: unpasteurized almonds shipped directly to a manufacturer in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with the manufacturer having submitted an application and qualified for direct verifiable user status by the Almond Board; and unpasteurized almonds shipped to other export markets. Cartons, bins, and boxes would require unpasteurized labeling under the exceptions.

Handlers would be required to prepare a treatment plan explaining how pasteurization procedures would be incorporated into the operations. Final plans would be due by May 2007.

The ABC would conduct compliance visits with additional help by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspection service

According to the ABC, many of the technologies used for pasteurizing almonds such as propylene oxide, blanching, and oil roasting have been used in the industry for years. Other methods like steam treatments have undergone research to ensure that no significant degradation in the quality or sensory attributes occurs in treated almonds.

The ABC is mailing the plan details to the almond industry next week.

The public can submit comments on the proposed rule until Jan. 27, 2007.

Written comments should be mailed to: Docket Clerk, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable programs, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington D.C. 20250-0237. Send e-mail versions to moab.docketclerk@usda.gov. All comments must have the docket number (FV06-981-1 PR) and refer to the Federal Register publication date (Dec. 6, 2006) and page number (70683).

California, the nation’s sole almond producing state, exports two-thirds of the crop to 90 markets worldwide. Eighty percent of the world’s almonds are California grown. Almonds are the largest specialty crop in the U.S.

e-mail: cblake@farmpress.com