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Federal Court To Almond Growers: OK To Challenge Pasteurization Law

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. overturned a previous ruling, clearing the way for farmers to challenge a law concerning almond pasteurization.

a farmer holds a handful of almonds

Photo: Cory Pina

Producers are able to sell unpasteurized almonds for up to 40% more than pasteurized ones.

A federal court of appeals has cleared the way for almond growers to challenge a U.S. Department of Agriculture regulation requiring the pasteurization of almonds before sale.

Presently, federal law mandates pasteurization of almonds prior to sale, and gives farmers the option of treating their almonds organically with steam or chemically with propylene oxide gas.

So, even if the almonds in your health food store say they are ‘raw,’ that is not really the case. All U.S. grown almonds go through some pasteurization, and raw, organic almonds will have been pasteurized using the steam method.

Almonds And Salmonella

The pasteurization requirement for domestic almonds was set in 2007 with help of the Almond Board of California. It was instituted because of two large salmonella outbreaks that were caused by unpasteurized almonds.

But is that reason to ban all raw almonds? Almonds (unlike meat, eggs or dairy) are only able to spread salmonella if they are exposed to water, soil or machinery contaminated with the bacteria.

And the U.S. Environmental Protection agency has noted propylene oxide (used in pasteurization) as a probable carcinogen.

Objections From Small Producers

Almond growers have some major problems with this law. Small farm owners are concerned that they may not be able to afford the expensive equipment required for heat or chemical treatment.

Unpasteurized almonds also sell for 40 percent more than pasteurized ones! Consumers are willing to pay more for completely organic, raw almonds, because it insures that none of the natural vitamins and nutrients of the almond are lost in the pasteurization process.

Not only do growers fear price decline, but loss of customers as well. If local growers are unable to sell unpasteurized almonds, consumers will likely look overseas for the product they want.

U.S. law does not require the pasteurization of imported or exported almonds. Regulations on imported products are far more complex and are enacted only if they are deemed to be necessary for public health. There has not been strong enough evidence for the risks due to consuming unpasteurized almonds for the enactment of stricter regulation.

Local almond producers’ objections to the law were rejected in March 2009. However, the latest ruling on August 3, 2010, allows producers (but not consumers) to challenge current almond market laws.

Read More:

  • Almonds Growers Given Go-Ahead to Challenge Pasteurization Law (FoodQuality)
  • Court Rules Farmers Can Challenge USDA (FoodSafetyNews)
  • Tell USDA Not to Allow Companies to Process Almond with Toxic Chemicals and High Heat and Label Them ‘Raw Almonds’ (OrganicConsumer)

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Molly Plunkett

Molly Plunkett is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for Earth Eats. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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