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SPECIAL EDITION — PISTACHIO RECALL HAS MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

Georgia Nut Company (Not The One Implicated In The Peanut Recall)Points Finger At Setton Pistachio

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, April 3, 2009

Joshua Robbins
Spokesperson
Georgia Nut Company
Skokie, Illinois

Q: In its recall release, Georgia Nut Company said it identified the Salmonella as a result of “a rigorous sampling and testing regimen it conducted with respect to shelled pistachios provided by [Setton].” What is your testing protocol? Was this rigorous testing typical and part of a routine, continuous testing program, or was it ratcheted up because of the peanut butter crisis perhaps? Do you do a test-and-hold program?

A: What led to this discovery and the subsequent recall was a result of our regular testing program in place and this fit into that. We don’t share details of our company’s internal testing and operating procedures.

Q: How do you know for sure that the problem originated at Setton and not some time after it left the plant? It did seem notable that the testing showed four different strains of Salmonella…

A: I can’t speak to the technical, scientific side of that testing. We traced it back to the supplier, and are confident it is not an environmental problem in our facility. All our environmentals tested clean.

Q: If you do a continuous testing program, and March 2009 was the first time Setton product tested positive for Salmonella, why are products being recalled going back to September 1, 2008? Setton reported that the product you recently tested with the positive results was actually received by Georgia Nut Company in late 2008. Is that right?

A: When dealing with lot numbers and getting into the amount of product shipped, I’m not an expert at that. As soon as things were discovered, we alerted the supplier and we worked with FDA. That was on Monday, March 23, and our recall went out on March 25.

Q: You certainly showed resolve and expediency in addressing the problem once you discovered it.

A: We’re a small family company and have never dealt with a recall like this in 60 years of business. We’re not used to hundreds of people wanting to know everything about our business. We’re focused on producing quality product and taking care of our customers. We’re fielding calls because we were the first out there. Were trying to manage the situation the best we can.

We have a regular testing program in place, and we were able to locate the source. Our specific recall for Georgia Nut Company was relatively small. None the less, this is a big challenge for us to handle.

A lot of people thought we were the infamous Georgia company from the peanut butter crisis. Of course, Georgia Nut Company is based in Skokie, Illinois, and the Georgia in our company is not a state, but the name of a woman. Once all the attention dies down, there’s a possibility we’ll have more we can share with you.

Yes it can be overwhelming for a small family-owned business to suddenly find itself in the public eye. That is why crisis management is so important.

But there is no reason a company should be reticent to discuss its food safety program. It should be so proud of its program and want to discuss every detail.

We appreciate the time that Joshua Robbins and the Georgia Nut Company took to speak with us, but we are not certain that the logic of the argument being made holds. Mr. Robbins says that the company knows that the pistachios couldn’t get contaminated at its facility. How does he know this? Well he explains that “All our environmentals tested clean.”

Yet the failure to find something doesn’t prove anything at all. And, so far at least, nobody has found any place where the “environment” is filled with these strains of Salmonella — including, so far, no such finding at Setton Pistachio.

The fact that these pistachios were sitting at the Georgia Nut Company for months raises real questions about where the contamination may have occurred. So far nobody has provided a compelling explanation for how it was a problem back at Setton Pistachio.

Hopefully Mr. Robbins will be able to tell us more soon. Many thanks to him and to Georgia Nut Company for helping to explain this matter to the industry.

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