The FDA sent a warning letter on October 7, 2016 to the Wonderful Company, which produces Wonderful pistachios, about an inspection conducted in response to a multistate Salmonella outbreak linked to the pistachios. This outbreak was investigated by the CDC and declared over in May 2016.
The Wonderful Company facility was inspected from March 8 through April 7, 2016. The Salmonella outbreak was caused by two Salmonella species: nine people were sickened with Salmonella Montevideo, and two were sickened with Salmonella Senftenberg. The trackback and epidemiological evidence led the FDA to conclude that pistachio nuts produced by that firm were adulterated. They were “prepared, packed, and held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health,” according to the letter.
Ten of the eleven people sickened in this outbreak were interviewed by public health officials. Eight of them, or 80%, reported eating pistachios the week before they got sick. No other specific food was identified as a suspect. In that outbreak, illness onset dates ranged from January 3 to March 25, 2016. The patient age range was from 27 years to 69.
The Wonderful facility was inspected by FDA officials. Three product samples were collected at the plant, each consisting of 30 subsamples. Five of 30 subsamples of one sample of raw in-shell pistachios collected from silos at the facility yielded four positive tests for Salmonella Senftenberg, and one positive test for Salmonella Liverpool. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) found that the Salmonella Senftenberg isolates in the pistachios were nearly identical to the isolates taken from case-patients.
The Wonderful company recalled pistachios in response to this outbreak, and responded to Form FDA-483. That form is filed by FDA officials after an inspection when conditions are observed that may violate the Food Drug & Cosmetic Act.
The company said they would study the optimal level of chlorine in a tank and to install a system to remove foreign material before the pistachios were put into storage. But company officials did not provide any documentation demonstrating the effectiveness of these changes or any other changes that may prevent a reoccurrence of an outbreak, according to the letter. Chlorine can kill Salmonella and other pathogenic bacteria when applied in the proper concentration.
Wonderful recalled in-shell and shelled pistachios sold under the brand names Trader Joe’s, Paramount Farms, and Wonderful on March 10, 2016. Public health officials are worried that these nuts may still be in consumers’ homes, since they have such a long shelf life. You can see a list of all of the recalled products at the FDA web site. If you have any, throw them away or take them back to the store where you bought them for a refund. Wash your hands after handling these products.
If you suffered the symptoms of a Salmonella infection after eating the recalled pistachios, see your doctor. Those symptoms usually begin six hours to three days after exposure to the bacteria, but it can take up to ten ays or more for some people to feel ill. Symptoms include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea that may be bloody, a fever, headache, and body aches.