Monday, August 27, 2007

US: Almond wait causes strain

A proposed delay in the launch of a mandatory pasteurization program for California almonds is not sitting well with nut processors gearing up for the expected Sept. 1 start.The Almond Board of California has requested that the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture postpone the start of the program for six months, until March 1, to ensure the industry has met all the pasteurization steps required under the new law.Richard Waycott, president of the Modesto-based Almond Board of California, said the industry wasn't completely ready when it surveyed its members in August."We don't want the public to think we are stalling," Waycott said. "This is just taking us longer than we would like."The industry began the pasteurization effort several years ago after being rocked by two cases of salmonella contamination in the past five years. Both cases of salmonella outbreaks were linked to raw almonds.But some companies that have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in pasteurization equipment designed to kill harmful bacteria say the delay is too long. Those companies would pasteurize the almonds as a service for growers."It is going to hurt us," said George Tavernas of California Nut Co., near Turlock. "We have a big investment in this. We expected to make $300,000 to $400,000, and now we won't have that."Others face a similar dilemma.Dale and Sheri Alquist of Going Nuts in Madera said getting their pasteurization plant ready has taken them a year and nearly $1 million. And they said they can't afford to have it sit idle until March."We could go bankrupt if this delay takes place," Sheri Alquist said. "This was going to be our business, and now we have no business."Alquist said she is hoping the USDA rules against the almond board and forces a Sept. 1 start date.That remains to be seen. A federal agricultural official said Monday said that the agency expects to hear the request in the coming weeks."The concern we are hearing is that as they gear up, there is an issue of readiness," said Michael Durando, administrative branch chief for the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service in Washington, D.C.Waycott said the process to validate the pasteurization program for the industry has been time-consuming and complex.A technical-review panel was created to make sure that the processes used by the industry comply with the law's requirements for minimum safety levels.Source:

No comments: