The Western Pistachio Association’s efforts to shore up consumer confidence in their product following the industry’s recall in March due to potential salmonella contamination appears to be paying off.
Within 10 days after the recall, the association established a Web site — www.pistachiorecall.org — to inform consumers about which products were affected and which were not. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration established a link on its Web site to the association’s recall site.
“This was the first time an industry group has partnered with the FDA in providing such an information link,” says Richard Matoian, WPA executive director.
Shortly after the Web site was established, it was receiving about 10,000 to 13,000 visitors per day; those have subsequently declined to about 100 each day. “Those early numbers show that it was a valuable service,” Matoian says.
The organization worked with CAL-PURE Cooperative to develop the Web site.
The FDA has reported no conclusive evidence that pistachio products were ever linked to any case of human illness. Also, the one processor involved in the recall has worked closely with local, state and federal regulators to implement aggressive safety measures, and recently returned to full pistachio processing and roasting operations, Matoian says.
For April, both domestic and international shipments of U.S. pistachios were down 50 percent compared to a year earlier. One reason, he notes, was that little product was available for sales after stores cleared their shelves of pistachios in the first few weeks after the recall.
Also, the recall prompted many processors to evaluate their own food safety programs. Many temporarily stopped production to insure that proper cleanliness and sanitation procedures were being followed, resulting in less product being shipped during April.
By May, shipment volumes had recovered to 82 percent, compared to May, 2008 levels. The extent of that recovery may have been limited by a worldwide shortage of pistachios and a resulting increase in price which could have dampened demand, he says.
Meanwhile, the industry is following FDA directives to strengthen its food safety practices.
“The U.S. pistachio industry was progressive in establishing proactive food safety practices in 2000,” Matoian says. “We are bolstering those guidelines to insure that pistachios are uncompromisingly safe, wholesome and delicious.”
The steps include:
• Handling raw and roasted product on separate packing lines.
• More sampling and testing of products as they arrive at processing plants from the field, as they make their way through the processing facilities and as a finished product.
Verifying that pistachios are being roasted at temperatures required to kill any salmonella bacteria.