The Almond Board of California’s food safety program is the “gold standard” among low-moisture food crops, but we need to remain vigilant by maintaining an active research program to continuously improve our food safety program, industry member Brian Dunning said as he welcomed handlers and growers to the 14th annual Almond Quality and Food Safety Symposium.

"The almond industry is in a tough environment, but our strength is in the research and programs we conduct collectively,” said Dunning, who is chairman of the ABC Almond Quality and Food Safety Committee.

Speaker Linda Harris, Ph.D., Cooperative Extension microbial food safety specialist at UC Davis, concurred that the California Almond industry is recognized as a food safety leader with its risk assessment, validation guidelines and pathogen environmental monitoring programs, which other commodities aspire to. She also noted that the Almond Board is recognized for successfully disseminating information to industry members.

Preharvest Risks

Dr. Harris said she has concerns that the industry is lacking preharvest data to assess the risk of:

  • Untreated manure
  • Grazing animals
  • Proximity to animals
  • Proximity to composting

"We don’t know how risky these factors are because we don’t have enough data, so we have to be careful. Drying the crop on the ground is unusual among commodities, and it is risky,” says Harris.

She also expressed her concerns for the future of almond food safety. New risk factors include:

  • Record crop sizes
  • Extended harvest dates
  • Threat of inclement weather as harvest time is extended
  • Almonds are stored under tarps
  • Hulling and shelling is spread out over a longer time.