October 15, 2019

Judge Rules Raw Almonds Must Be Pasteurized

Federal Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle has ruled in a summary judgment that the U.S. Agriculture rule about the pasteurization of raw almonds must stand. Organic famers in California’s San Joaquin Valley filed a legal challenge that began in 2008. California produces 80% of the world’s almonds and exports 70% of the crop.

Almonds and other raw products, including raw milk, are pasteurized to destroy harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. The nuts are either pasteurized with with steam or are fumigated using chemicals. There are two exceptions to this rule: almonds that are shipped directly to a manufacturer who has “verifiable user status” in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and almonds that are shipped to all other markets outside the country.

Opponents of pasteurization claim that the heat treatment destroys nutrients and that forcing small farmers to treat their products would put them out of business. Supporters of pasteurization point to the devastating effects of consuming unpasteurized products, and say that there are no reliable studies showing pasteurization makes any product less nutritious.

The original suit was dismissed by Huvelle in March 2009 because the farmers had not completed their administrative options. In 2010, the D.C. District Court of Appeals reversed that decision and let the lawsuit proceed.

The Almond Board of California, which administers the orders that regulate quality control, had recommended new safety rules in 2006 after an outbreak of Salmonella PT30 contamination in raw almonds in Canada in 2001 that was tracked back to California almonds and sickened 168 people, and an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis in 2004 that sickened 29 people. The rule was adopted in 2007.

Organic farmers, who sell the raw almonds for a premium price, had said the rules hamper their efforts to sell the product, and that this law will send consumers to overseas markets.

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