FDA inspection finds salmonella at production facility
By MITCH LIES
Hazelnuts, one of the few bright spots in Oregon agriculture in 2009, are taking their lumps.
Government inspectors found salmonella in a hazelnut shelling operation in Newberg, Ore., triggering a recall last week of 110,000 pounds of shelled hazelnuts.
Food and Drug Administration inspectors found the salmonella during stepped-up testing the agency initiated this year on tree nut production facilities.
Willamette Shelling voluntarily initiated the recall on Dec. 17.
No illnesses have been reported, and, to the knowledge of company officials, no infected hazelnuts left the plant.
No salmonella has been found in further tests, said Polly Owen, manager of the Hazelnut Industry Office.
"It looks like we have a good handle on the situation," Owen said. "There is not a lot of product out there that is being recalled, and we're thankful nobody got sick."
The source of the salmonella is unknown, ODA officials said.
Federal inspectors initially found the bacteria on non-food surfaces. Further testing by the Oregon Department of Agriculture revealed it was on a small batch of nuts.
Willamette Shelling shut down operations and embargoed all hazelnuts at the Newberg plant after the first discovery of the bacteria.
Only about 70,000 pounds of hazelnuts under suspicion are in distribution networks, said Ben Mitchell, manager of Willamette Filbert Growers, which has nuts involved in the recall.
Kunze Farms of Dayton, Evonuk Oregon Hazelnuts of Eugene, Harry and David Country Village Store in Medford and Whole Foods Market also recalled hazelnuts last week that were shelled by Willamette Shelling.
An additional 533,000 pounds remain embargoed either at Willamette Shelling or at other hazelnut operations in Oregon, Mitchell said.
The hazelnuts under suspicion were processed at the plant between Oct. 12 and Nov. 25.
Owen said the industry doesn't believe it has a problem with salmonella given that it has a clean record dating back decades. But the recall is giving the industry pause for thought, she said.
"The industry is certainly more cognizant of the need to identify critical control points in each of their processing plants," she said.
The industry also is asking FDA to establish a recognized "kill step" for salmonella in hazelnuts.
Oregon growers produced an estimated 83.5 million pounds of hazelnuts this year, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.