Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Salmonella found in N.Y. pistachio plant

According to the Associated Press, no Salmonella was found in the Commack, N.Y.-based Setton International Foods processing plant. All nine environmental swabs and 10 sample tests of the company’s food products came back with negative results. The investigation was conducted in tandem with an investigation into Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. in Calif., where federal food safety officials announced they found traces of Salmonella inside the plant. Setton Pistachio, now temporarily closed, had recalled more than 2 million lbs of pistachios the first week in April, and then expanded the recall of raw and roasted nuts on April 6. By April 10, 14 million lbs of nuts had been recalled, and it is likely that the company may need to recall up to 20 million lbs. So far, no pistachio-related illnesses have been reported.

Peanut industry faces more good news than bad

Apr 21, 2009 10:25 AM, By Ron SmithFarm Press Editorial Staff
The peanut industry can look forward to more good news than bad in the next few years, despite current over-supply, low prices and a salmonella contamination that affects the entire industry.
“We’ll come out of the salmonella issue stronger than ever,” said Howard Valentine, executive director of the Peanut Foundation.
Valentine spoke on current peanut issues at the Oklahoma Peanut Expo in Lone Wolf, Okla. He said industry changes to be initiated worldwide will restore public confidence in peanuts and peanut products.
Current lack of consumer confidence and the accompanying effect on markets come from what Valentine described as a “criminal offense” by the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA), headquartered in Blakely, Ga., with another plant in Texas.
He said a Jan. 13, 2009, product recall followed reports of hundreds of people sickened by salmonella contaminated peanut products. So far, nine deaths have been attributed to the contamination.
Valentine said the recall included only 30,000 pounds of peanuts, which he describes as “a small amount. PCA sold to small companies.” The recall ultimately totaled 3,000 products, which is a lot, Valentine said.
The company allegedly shipped peanuts to various manufacturers in spite of records that showed 12 positive tests for salmonella. Eventually every product from the PCA plant was recalled. The plant was closed, as was one in Texas.
“PCA has done immeasurable damage to the industry,” Valentine said. “But we will work through the problems and come out stronger. I think we will do that. We will change consumer perceptions.”
He said the issue has unified the peanut industry. It also proved a catalyst for change. Valentine said the entire industry, from producers to manufacturers, are making changes to provide better safeguards.
A kill step recommendation is a key. Valentine said a combination of time and the right temperature is required to kill salmonella on peanuts. “Now, kill step regulations will be released to manufacturers worldwide,” he said. The Food and Drug Administration have approved regulations.
“We will continue to study and update good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” he said. A key will be improved sanitation, such as covering equipment to prevent contamination from bird droppings. “We expect big changes at the manufacturing level,” Valentine said.
A hazard analysis procedure also will be in place to assure contaminants are eliminated. “The industry will provide training for shellers and manufacturers,” he said.
A certification program also will help restore confidence in peanuts and peanut products. “It will be an international program,” Valentine said. “Jars and packages will be marked with certification labels.”
A promotion program will “minimize bad publicity” and to take a “proactive stance” for the industry.
Valentine said most peanut products are safe for consumption. “Jarred peanut butter is safe. It was not produced at PCA. And major supermarket chains have scan data so they know what’s on the (contaminant) list. They’ve pulled those products off the shelves.”
He said only one brand of crackers was included in the recall.
He also commented on the current peanut surplus and a hopeful outlook for peanut allergy treatment.
Increases in peanut exports, spurred by funds from USDA and FSA, have helped peanut markets. Since 2000, peanut exports have increased from 220,000 tons to 400,000 tons of farmer stock and few products have been recalled from export markets.
He said a “cure for peanut allergies” may be only two years away. An 18-month trial treatment program has shown that children with peanut allergy, after taking an oral immunization (extremely small amounts of peanuts), can eat up to 15 peanuts a day.
Within two years this oral immunotherapy will become “the method of treatment,” Valentine said.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Peanut supply pressures price

Apr 20, 2009 10:41 AM, By Ron SmithFarm Press Editorial Staff
U.S. peanut growers need to reduce acreage by 35 percent this year to bring production in line with demand. But that’s not likely to happen, says a Georgia peanut broker.
“Nationally, we expect an acreage reduction of about 22 percent,” said Richard Barnhill, president, Mazur and Hockman, Inc., Albany, Ga.
Barnhill, speaking via phone to the Oklahoma Peanut Expo in Lone Wolf, Okla., said the Southeast is more likely to cut acreage by 15 percent to 18 percent. “Growers do not have very good alternatives. Also, farmers will try to keep their rotations.”
USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates a 400,000-acre reduction for peanuts this year, 1.1 million compared to 1.5 million in 2008.
NASS figures put Texas at 160,000 acres, down from 195,000 last year. Georgia growers should plant 500,000 acres, off from 690,000 last year. Alabama, at 170,000, will be off from 195,000 in 2008.
North Carolina, at 75,000, will be down from 98,000 acres; South Carolina, at 55,000, will be down from 71,000; Virginia, at 12,000, will cut acreage in half from last year’s 24,000; Oklahoma, with 15,000 acres anticipated, will be down from 19,000; Mississippi, a relative newcomer to peanut production, will be down to 20,000, off just 2,000 from last year; and New Mexico, at 7,000 acres, will be down 1,000 from 2008.
Tough decisions
“Growers will have some tough decisions at planting time,” Barnhill said. “Other commodity prices are off their peaks, too.”
He said if peanut acreage is less than 1 million, prices should hold. “If acreage tops 1 million, prices will weaken further.”
He said prices for the 2008 crop averaged from the mid-50-cent to the mid-60-cent range. “Now they are down into the low 40s. We have an oversupply of peanuts. A 1 million-ton carry-out from the 2008 crop is 600,000 more than last year.”
Production in 2008 was the biggest in four years, 2.5 million farmer stock tons. “Acreage was up and (moisture from) a hurricane in the Southeast came at the right time to produce big yields,” Barnhill said.
Demand is about 2 million farmer stock tons: 1.4 million for snacks, peanut butter, and other products; 100,000 for seed; 125,000 for oil; and 425,000 for export.
Supply outlook
Supply looks like this: 2.5 million farmer stock tons from the 2008 crop, a 410,000-ton carry-in, 100,000 tons imported. Total is just over 3 million tons.
“A 1 million-ton carry-out is why no contracts have been available like last year’s,” Barnhill said. “We have way too many peanuts and the salmonella scare is not helping. The 2.5 million-ton 2008 crop made the market weaker. Supply and demand always works.”
He said the impact of salmonella also remains a question. “The issue affects the whole industry.” Barnhill said January consumption numbers for peanut products were off. Peanut butter was down more than 8 percent, “the first time we’ve seen a significant downturn in peanut butter in eight years.”
And the worst is yet to come. “February numbers will be worse because they will show the whole market effect of salmonella. It could take up to two more months to calm the issue down — get it out of the media. The plants are closed; the products are off the market. We hope USDA announces that.”
Barnhill said the salmonella scare could reduce demand by 100,000 tons, about 5 percent of the reduced demand.
And that’s not the only issue facing peanut farmers as they make planting decisions. “China is getting more aggressive for exports in 2009. But a weak U.S. dollar could help U.S. producers compete.”
He said Southwest peanuts could have an advantage in export markets because of demand for high oleic and low aflatoxin peanut production. “We also see specific demand for Spanish and Virginia-type peanuts.”
Barnhill said the United States needs about 1.5 million tons of farmer stock peanuts in 2009. “A 500,000 to 600,000 ton carry-out is reasonable for a 2.6 million-ton supply. He said a 550,000 ton carry-out allows for crop yield problems.
Because of oversupply and the salmonella issue, “we don’t see much activity in the market,” Barnhill said.
Oklahoma, with just 15,000 acres planned for 2009, could maintain or increase plantings without significantly affecting the market, Barnhill said. “I’m not certain why acreage is shrinking so much (in Oklahoma).”