The implementation of the mandatory almond pasteurization program will start as planned on Sept. 1, 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

An initial request in early August by the Almond Board of California (ABC) asked the USDA to delay the kickoff date to March 1, 2008. The request was made due to concerns regarding the availability of sufficient validated treatment capacity upon startup of the program, particularly in the peak shipping months following harvest that is now underway, the ABC said.

The USDA determined that under the current regulations, almonds may be treated by facilities whose treatment processes have completed validation testing by an ABC-approved process authority, but have not yet completed final report submissions to the ABC board's expert review panel.

“This interpretation by USDA will make sufficient capacity available to move forward with implementation of the pasteurization plan,” said Richard Waycott, ABC chief executive officer.

Like the almond industry, the USDA's concern is ensuring the quality and safety of almonds in the marketplace, while balancing the reality of implementing a program on a scale sufficient to meet industry needs, the ABC said.

“USDA and the ABC staff are committed to working closely with industry members and allied partners to minimize disruptions and transition to full implementation and compliance,” Waycott said.

The almond industry experienced two food safety incidents, in 2001 and 2004, when raw almonds were recalled due to salmonella. While rare, the industry pursued aggressive measures to prevent future occurrences through the pasteurization program. The almond industry initiated the mandatory almond pasteurization program.

The almond pasteurization plan is designed to provide consumers with safe, wholesome food products free from potentially harmful levels of bacteria that can cause illness, without compromising almond qualities and attributes.

The ABC's delay request strictly addressed the implementation date of the mandatory rule only — not any effort to revise specific portions of the approved pasteurization program.