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Almonds: Carcinogens in a Nutshell

Posted by Nikki F.

Raw and organic almond lovers are appalled by the Department of Agriculture’s decision to pasteurize California almonds sold in the U.S. to retailers and food processors. The Almond Board of California proposed this mandatory sterilization in response to the charge of almonds sickening a few dozen people with the salmonella bacteria both in 2001 and 2004.

Since almonds are tree nuts that neither make nor are usually exposed to salmonella, the most probable sites of contamination were large processing plants with sub par sanitation. It would seem then, that better enforced or increased sanitation standards at plants would be the chosen way to avoid future outbreaks of the disease. But instead of eliminating the problem by handling the nuts in a cleaner environment, the USDA is initiating sterilization.

This approach concerns many almond eaters because the most common method of sterilizing almonds is propylene oxide fumigation—a method that uses a chemical compound classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen. Propylene oxide was once used as a racing fuel because of its ability to add oxygen to gasoline. But due to its ability to also add oxygen to human cells—thereby causing cancer—the National Hot Rod Association banned use of the compound in 1993.

Should you throw out your kernels and light up a Camel? Not quite. Some almonds are alternatively being sterilized by oil roasting and blanching, and organic growers can steam heat their nuts clean. Moreover, growers who sell at farmers’ markets and roadside stands are completely exempt from the mandate and can still sell raw, unpasteurized almonds. But since the exempt growers are limited to selling their unsterilized product to consumers, retailers who produce raw, organic almond products are forced to import Italian, Spanish and Turkish almonds—nuts that the retailers feel are inferior to California’s own.

Will your nuts give you cancer? Starting September 1, they just might.

Comments (7)
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That's something that I cannot wrap my head around... the idea of using chemicals on food products rather than cracking down on cleaner standards inside the plant...
You need to understand that decisions are irrational, illogical are based on reactive thought. I bet that it is cheaper to use a chemical than closing down a plant to clean up its act in processing food. Who owns the chemical? Is it a by-product of some sort? Follow the money and you will find the Why. It will open the door to a correct solution.
I love an almond more than anything - especially a raw almond. If it's only in CA, I'm going to have to cartel my almonds from other states. A few bad decision makers ruining it for everyone...
California actually supplies nearly all of the US's almonds. I'm also fairly sure that it's THE supplier internatinally as well, but that would need to be checked
Scroll down to "Stop the Insanity." The petition you get to by clicking "contact Conner today" is dated February 2, 2008, so it's definitely worth signing.

Despite a negative backlash from almond producers, retailers and consumers, the USDA has implemented its ruling to require that all raw almonds sold in stores must be pasteurized. The rule went into effect on September 1st, and since then, all retail outlets have been forced to remove true raw almonds from store shelves. Consumers will be misled by this action as there will still be almonds on store shelves labeled as "raw," but they will actually be pasteurized.

One of the FDA-recommended pasteurization methods requires the use of propylene oxide, which is classified as a "possible human carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and is banned in Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.

The other method, to be used on organic almonds, involves cooking them briefly. (Hence, not raw.)

Since the decision about the rule was made, Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns, has stepped down. He is temporarily replaced by Chuck Conner. This may provide a new opportunity for reversal.

Please contact Conner today to ask that the rule be suspended for 6 months while the public comment period is re-opened.

Even if they aren't using the chemicals, even heating them in the oil or blaching them means that the vital nutrients are lost. They will no longer sprout...which means that one of the most healthy foods on the planet are not longer nutritious.

Wow, so much poor information in the world being spread on blogs. The most likely source of salmonella is not poor plants but that it is coming in from the field with traces of salmonella. Cracking down on standards in a plant won't make salmonella disappear nor will testing guarantee you don't get it. The only way to control it is to use validated processes to kill the pathogens.

To suggest that since it won't sprout it is no longer nutritious is a lot of hyperbole, sheryl w.

C.L.R.: California produces all the nation's almonds and about 70% of the world supply. You won't be able to buy almonds from a state other than California and even if another state produced them, they would still be bound by the federal marketing order and have to treat the product for pathogens.

Kenna, this isn't about following a money trail. The most clean plant in the world cannot guarantee salmonella free product unless it is treating the product with PPO or steam or some other form of kill step to eliminate pathogens. If you think it is cheap to build a pasteurizer, you haven't priced one. The first time I looked at buying one about 5 years ago, it would have cost more than my entire facility. The one I just bought still costs way more than a re-engineering of my plant would cost so it isn't the "cheap" solution but the only guaranteed one.

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