As an observer to many of the past supply chain incidents of major food contamination, I’ve come to notice that clarity of information and visibility to overall scope only tend to appear when companies and agencies communicate with one another during some form of a crisis.

On Tuesday of last week, Supply Chain Matters posted our first advisory regarding potential salmonella contamination in pistachio products sold by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc.  Setton has voluntarily recalled about 118,000 pounds of pistachio products, and the FDA has issued an advisory to consumers to stop eating pistachios. Since that time, more news has trickled out, and more actions are being taken.

Late last week, a story appearing in Boston.com and syndicated by the Associated Press (AP) indicated that this latest incident of pistachio salmonella contamination was a positive incident for consumers, since the contamination was proactively discovered before major illnesses occurred.  It reported that routine testing conducted by Georgia Nut, a contract manufacturer for Kraft Foods first detected this contamination almost two weeks ago at its trail mix manufacturing plant.  Kraft positively traced the source of the infection to pistachios supplied by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., and proactively notified both the FDA and Setton.  This contrasts sharply with what occurred in the recent incident involving peanut butter and peanut products, where the actual occurrences of human illness were what triggered multiple supply chain recall actions.  So at face value, Kraft should be commended for its proactive response.

New information circulating among various media outlets seems to indicate that Kraft discovered contaminated nuts as far back as December of 2007.   A news report running on chicagotribune.com on Friday quotes a production manager at Setton International as indicating that Kraft detected salmonella in its pistachios in September of 2008, more than six months ago, but didn’t report it until last week. This same production manager indicated that Kraft did not directly inform Setton of the September testing results until last week’s recall.

Late on Friday, Kraft acknowledged that it first heard there was salmonella in its trail mix as far back as late 2007, but could not trace the exact source until two weeks ago.  According to the latest AP story, a spokesperson for Kraft indicated that it was only after thousands of tests could the company pinpoint the source of the second positive test as those originating from Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella.

While these stories are conflicting, it does not diminish the potential scope of this incident among various food supply chains that have pistachios as an ingredient.  More companies that sourced pistachios from the California plant have now voluntarily recalled their products.  Setton International, a parent to Setton Pistachio, has  issued a recall notice for several snack products involving pistachios. A Reuters business article further indicates the Federal and state food inspectors are also expanding their inspections to other Setton plants, including a facility in New York, while nuts from Setton Pistachios have made their way into the supply chains of the nation’s largest grocers.

We should not diminish the fact that Kraft, other food manufacturers, and the government are taking much more proactive actions to avoid further human illness related to potential tainted pistachios. While the information that is coming out may be conflicting as to when the contamination was originally discovered, positive and proactive response in mitigating any human health issues is the proper action.

 Bob Ferrari