Just how many articles need to be written about pistachios? Well, obviously one more because now I’m writing one too.
Ok, so lets look at the facts. We know that the nuts were rodent infested and that salmonella bacterium were found to be present in the nuts. Ok, sounds reasonable! food hygiene standards were down and a few dirty little mice or rats got at the nuts.
Here’s a video demonstrating the somewhat less than delicate method of harvesting pistachios
Excuse me! Don’t all types of nuts, seeds and grain attract rats anyway? Don’t pistachios grow in the open environment where field mice, cute little chipmunks and a whole host of other little critters frolic to their hearts content. OK, the mice and rats that infest wharehouses, sewers and industrial areas are not quite the same as those found in nature, right?
The answer to this is yes, and no. And another question comes to mind. Is salmonella the only dangerous bacteria spread by rodents? The answer to this is NO. Rodent urine very often contains a bacteria called leptospira which infects other species with a desease called leptospirosos. Rodents have no control over their excretions and there fore wherever they go a trail of their infected urine is left behind. This is how many snake species track rodents.
Leptospirosis is a very unpleasant desease which can require up to three weeks in a hospital bed to recover from. It is a zoonotic desease and is often contracted by fishermen who work on wharfs, dairy workers and other professions involving animals or places where rodents congregate such as sewers and feed bins. Leptospira as a species is far more heat resistant than salmonella. We should remember that not all deseases involving food are contracted through ingestion. Some, like leptospirosis can be contracted through healthy skin, especially when wet.
Rodents may also be responsible for the spreading of other forms of bacteria such as camphilobacter, staphilococcus aureus, clostridium spp. pseudomonas aeroginosa and many more. All of which can cause serious illness and similarly to leptospira are more heat resistant than salmonella.
But let’s say for a minute that in spite of all these other possibilities salmonella is our prime concern. What could have happened that caused the bacteria to remain alive? They are roasted and salted, right? In theory that is correct. Pistachios are typically roasted and salted if they are left in the shell. If they are taken out of the shell they may be sugared in which case the pistachios are dipped into boiling sugar syrup and cooked in an oven so that the sugar crystalizes.
If salmonella remained alive on the nuts it is clear that they did not receive sufficient roasting. Could it be that the second largest pistachio distributer in the ‘US of A’ did not roast his nuts adequately? What’s going on? We have been chomping these nuts for years why the problems all of a sudden? Were there no rodents then?
We are in a recession, right? Cuts in costs have to be made, right? Could it be that workers were instructed to change the control setting on the roasters to a lower temperature and/or keep the nuts within the machine for a shorter period of time.
As I said, salmonella is by no means the only health risk where pistachios are concerned. We have not even started to discuss liver cancer causing moulds that have been found on pistachios all over the world.
One thing that I can assure you is this, just about every pistachio that you will ever eat has been in indirect or direct contact with a rodent at some stage of its production. It is all but impossible to keep rodents away from this type of crop in the natural habitat. The problem that occured here is one of HACCP’s and GMP. In my opinion critical control points were disregarded in the interest of saving money. This could include pest control within the processing plant also.
The moral of this story is that if you don’t want to loose big time, don’t try to save small time!