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SPECIAL EDITION III —
Major Retailer, California Health Official and FDA Weigh In On Pistachio Recall

Retail Exec Defends Setton
And Lambasts FDA’s Actions

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, April 9, 2009

Here at the Pundit, we experience the horror of the way the FDA behaves in a very specific manner. We learn that FDA agents have intimidated everyone who could credibly speak up against the way the FDA behaves.

The importance of this subject goes well beyond food safety. If the government is free to act in an arbitrary and capricious manner, people start to fear to speak up because they do not want to be the next victims. In a real way freedom of speech is lost. The right to petition the government is lost. Democracy itself is at risk.

Here is a conversation we had with one of the most powerful and well-respected retail executives in America. Yet for all the esteem he is held in, he dare not speak out, lest he put his own organization at risk.

But if they love not only food safety but also freedom, FDA executives ought to know that this is what dozens of the most knowledgeable people in the industry want to scream… if they care about food safety, the FDA executives will take this message to heart… if they care about freedom in America, they will think about how to organize their actions so that knowledgeable experts are not afraid to speak out:

Q: Could you shed some light on this Pistachio recall? I know you abide by the highest food safety standards and require the same of your suppliers. Yet some of the recalled products carry your own brand. Wouldn’t your strict food safety and auditing procedures have caught the problems FDA claims to have discovered at Setton Pistachio’s facility?

A: I bet most third-party auditors have visited this facility, and I don’t want to throw any under the bus because Setton is probably audited five times a week. Lots of reputable companies audit Setton. Safeway would order its own audit, Costco would have its own audit. Wal-Mart the same. Setton is a great vendor.

Q: Then why is Setton undergoing this massive recall of its products? Are you saying it’s unwarranted?

A: Setton is being treated unconscionably. The science doesn’t support FDA’s actions.

The whole recall is strange, really strange. FDA pronounces they’ve got a smoking gun, discovery of salmonella in the Setton plant as evidence they were right. That’s crazy. FDA finds two environmental positives out of 200 tests and the positives were way off of production.

If you do environmental samples in any factories across the country you’ll find salmonella. Investigate any food processing plant… if you look hard enough you can find it. Salmonella is all over the place. If we swab the soles of our employee shoes, five out 10 will test positive for salmonella. Salmonella is ubiquitous.

Q: FDA’s Dr. Acheson claims the positive samples were in “critical areas” Investigators said they observed situations where raw and roasted pistachios were not properly segregated during the processing stages, which could have resulted in cross contamination.

A: We think Setton is getting dragged through the mud for different reasons, and the overriding one has to be the peanut deal. FDA is trying to save face. People are trying to save their jobs at FDA. In the end, as they always do, FDA will fall on its public health sword.

I don’t know what Acheson means by “critical areas.” Acheson also said there were 18 positives found in raw material since September. There is no proof of that. Even if there were positives, the company runs the raw product through again and re-roasts it. That’s normal FDA-approved industry practice.

The whole thing doesn’t make sense. Nothing has been confirmed. This Georgia Nut Company says it found four different salmonella serotypes in its testing, yet it can’t match salmonella up to anything at Setton.

It’s odd. There’s never been an issue with pistachios. Pistachios are not considered a high risk food. Pistachios are a non-hazardous product because of pH and water activity; it’s a dry roasted nut.

Q: Are all pistachios roasted before they’re sold at retail? Setton said its raw in-shell pistachio shipments are NOT affected by this recall expansion.

A: Yes, some are sold raw. My understanding is those raw in-shell products are going to a roaster, who will roast them. That product is not going through the Setton plant. That’s why it’s not part of the recall.

There are still active peanut butter recalls every day. People got sick in the peanut butter outbreak and the government didn’t tell consumers, ‘Don’t eat any peanuts.’ Why isn’t FDA applying the same standard to pistachios as it did for peanuts in issuing its warning?

In the case of the peanut outbreak, the company implicated was egregious. They knowingly sent out contaminated food. But FDA makes no distinction between that company and Setton, a reputable, honest firm with high food safety standards and regular audits.

Setton is a good company run by good folks. FDA’s behavior is a travesty. It’s the most offensive investigation. Serious errors are being made. We need to go after this. FDA can’t be allowed to operate this way, destroying good companies, taking down entire industries.

No it can’t. The FDA is destroying a company and an industry without any benefit to public health. It is behaving as a bully.

In allowing this type of discretion to regulators lies the road to serfdom.

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