Nuts are serious business these days. Since a qualified health claim was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2003, nut consumption has skyrocketed and the tasty seeds have become a key ingredient in many healthful foods.
That's why there's been so much interest in the different types of pasteurization being used on almonds, now that they have to be sanitized as part of a salmonella reduction initiative that took effect Sept. 1.
For conventional growers, the choices are simple. They can be fumigated with propylene oxide, blanched or oil roasted. None of these procedures appeals to organic growers. Wendy Larson, general manager of Big Tree Organic Farms, a Turlock, Calif.-based cooperative, said organic growers heard a lot from consumers about the use of different pasteurization methods.
“The raw foodists have even been more vocal than the organic folks,” she said. Organic growers worked with the Almond Board of California, the trade group spearheading the effort, to find an alternative method of pasteurization. They found it in a process that avoids high heat and high moisture.
“It's a chamber method. You put almonds in bulk into this chamber,” said Larson. “They draw a vacuum and add a bit of steam heat, and that combination kills the pathogens.”
This process, which also kills insects, ends up costing an additional 3 to 5 cents per pound. Growers find it to be an acceptable price for protection against salmonella, after outbreaks in 2001 and 2004 were blamed on raw almonds from California.