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Bad pistachios linked to process error

WASHINGTON – A basic error on the production lines of a California processing plant is thought to have contaminated its pistachios with salmonella, a top federal food safety official said Tuesday.

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, the nation’s second-largest processor of the nut, ran raw and roasted pistachios through the same machinery on several production lines, said David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food protection at the Food and Drug Administration.

Salmonella bacteria can live on raw nuts but are usually killed during the roasting process. Good manufacturing standards call for keeping raw and roasted nuts separate so that bacteria do not spread between the two.

It is unclear why Setton Pistachio ran raw and roasted nuts through the same machinery. A company spokeswoman did not respond to queries.

Setton recalled more than 2 million pounds of pistachios Monday. But because the company supplies its nuts to about 35 wholesalers and food manufacturers, who repackage the pistachios for retail sale or use them as ingredients in other products, it was not clear which consumer goods are affected. It could take weeks to compile a comprehensive list.

That has prompted federal officials to warn consumers to temporarily stop eating all foods containing pistachios. “Our advice is to avoid eating pistachio products; don’t throw them out, hold on to them as we learn more about this,” Acheson said.

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