Contaminated Almonds Sicken 37 In Australia

Thirty-seven people in six Australian states have suffered from salmonellosis after consuming raw almonds contaminated with Salmonella Typhimurium, according to a report issued over the weekend by Australia’s Department of Health and Aging (ADHA).

The youngest outbreak victim was one year old, the oldest was 76. Five people required a hospital stay. The most recent reported illness onset date was October 6, 2012.

Epidemiologic data, traceback investigations and lab results implicated raw almonds supplied by Select Harvests Limited (Thomastown, Victoria).

Australians first learned of the outbreak on October 23rd, when Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) released the following statement:

“Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) today urged consumers to check their pantries for raw almonds that might be contaminated with Salmonella.

FSANZ Deputy Chief Executive Officer Melanie Fisher said state, territory and federal government authorities were investigating an outbreak of Salmonella gastroenteritis associated with some batches of raw almonds.

 “There have been two recalls associated with this outbreak, one conducted nationally by Woolworths and one in southeast Queensland by Flannerys ,” Ms Fisher said.

The products recalled were supplied by Select Harvests and sold as Woolworths Almond Kernels (with best before dates of 05/02/13; 06/04/13; 07/04/13; 12/04/13) and as Flannerys Own Almonds in 500gm and 1kg zip-lock sealed pouch (with best before dates between 02/07/13 and 05/10/13).

Ms Fisher said consumers should check the brand of almonds in their pantry and if the product had been recalled they should either dispose of any remaining product or return packets to the place of purchase for a full refund. If consumers have almonds in their pantry and are unsure of the source then they should consider disposing of the product.

“The food recalls were notified earlier this month but we want to ensure consumers are carefully checking their pantries as packaged raw almonds are often bought to use later,” she said.

Raw almonds can be identified by the brown skin on the outside of the almond. Roasted almonds (which also have brown skin but will be labelled as ‘roasted’), and processed almonds e.g. blanched almonds, almond slivers and processed product containing almonds, are not affected by these recalls.

Twenty-seven confirmed or suspected cases of salmonellosis linked to the recalled products have been reported in six states and territories.

Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days and most people recover within a few days. However for very young children (under five years of age), older people and people with weak immune systems, salmonellosis can be much more serious.

If you think you or your family might have become ill from eating raw almonds, you should consult your doctor.”

Neither federal agency has identified the six states that reported outbreak-associated cases of Salmonella Typhimurium. On October 27th, the Western Australia Department of Health released its own consumer alert and reported that ‘…at least three Western Australians...”  were affected by the outbreak.

Australian federal health officials have known about this outbreak for at least a month. On October 4th, Woolworths Ltd. recalled Woolworths Almond Kernels (Best before 05/02/13, 06/04/13, 07/04/13 and 12/04/13) due to Salmonella contamination. Six days later, Nnylonit Pty Ltd, trading as Flannerys Natural & Organic Supermarket, recalled Flannerys Own Almonds (All Best before dates between 2/07/2013 to 5/10/13), due to Salmonella contamination. Both of these companies obtained their almonds from Select Harvests Limited.

Select Harvests issued its own recall notice on October 5th. The notice made no mention of the outbreak, but simply reported that the “…voluntary recall was initiated after laboratory testing identified the potential presence of Salmonella in [some] almonds supplied to Woolworths.” The company updated its recall announcement on October 23rd, reporting that “… extensive testing has been conducted which indicates that the source of potential contamination is isolated to some almonds from one farm. Additional precautionary and voluntary recalls of some products to a number of small, independent, customers have been made.” Once again, no mention of any illnesses.

This is not the first time that raw almonds have been implicated in an outbreak of salmonellosis. In 2003-2004, raw almonds supplied by Paramount Farms (Lost Hills, CA) were linked to at least 29 cases of Salmonella Enteritidis in 12 US states and one Canadian province. Paramount’s almonds were sold under the Kirkland Signature (Costco), Trader Joe’s and Sunkist labels. The raw nuts also were exported to France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

As a result of that outbreak, the Almond Board of California worked with USDA to develop and institute an industry-wide almond pasteurization program in the USA. As of September 2007, all almonds must be pasteurized before being sold to consumers in North America. Select Harvests, according to its October 23rd Announcement has ordered pasteurizing equipment, which it hopes will be operational in the New Year.

Advice to Consumers

  • Check the brand of almonds in your pantry and, if the product has been recalled, either dispose of any remaining product or return it to the place of purchase for a refund.
  • If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, fever and cramps, most commonly developing 12-72 hours after eating contaminated food. If you think that you or a family member has become ill from eating raw almonds, consult your doctor.

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