Did you know that it's illegal to buy or sell raw, unpasteurized almonds grown in the US? If you buy a package of raw almonds at your local store, even if they're organic, they've been pasteurized. But the term "pasteurization" brings images to mind of milk and cheese, which we've always been told require pasteurization to kill harmful bacteria and make the products safe for human consumption. Well, that's the same line we're now being fed about almonds. They just aren't safe to eat unless they've been pasteurized.....Or are they?
In researching how this all came about, one souce in particular stands out. Dan Hyman is an almond grower in California and has written a fascinating account of his thoughts on the origin of this pasteurization requirement. (Click here to read the entire document.) It seems that several people became ill with Salmonella, over roughly a two week period, after buying almonds from Costco. This was seen as an opportunity by the California Almond Board, crying for reforms and regulations to increase food safety. But their motives may not be completely altruistic.
Mr. Hyman describes three groups in this drama. The growers, who own almond orchards, and the consumers, who either eat the almonds directly or sell them in their stores, and the handlers, who connect and serve as middlemen between these two levels. There appears to be a move by the handlers (big companies like Blue Diamond, for example) to control more of the market share for almonds by running small producers out of business.
Thus the rhetoric about food safety and the push for pasteurization. Small operations can't afford the expenisve equipment needed to pasteruize their almonds, and are going out of business right and left. Before long, only the "Big Boys" will be left, making lots of money monopolizing the industry.
The following quote from Mr. Hyman explains this.
The take over attempt by the mega handlers is being sold to the popular press as a "food safety issue". It has nothing to do with food safety, it has everything to do with money. Why do I say that? because: If you, somehow, ate your way through the 4.8 Billion pounds of the Almond Crop over 4 years in which there were only 150 reported illnesses One pound at a time You are more likely to hit your State Lotto 5 times before you are likely to get sick from eating One pound of Almonds! Stated another way: You would have to eat 8 million pounds of Almonds each year for 4 years before you had any statistical probability of getting sick ! Does that sound like a 'Food Safety Issue' to You ? The Center for Disease Control states that the reported number of Salmonella cases in the US is fairly consistent at about 40,000 a year. Since 2004 the number of illnesses according to the CDC attributed to Almonds is less than 0.072 % . That is less than three quarters of a tenth of one percent, a statistically insignificant number.
But the plan is succeeding, because pasteurization of almonds is now law. There are legal challenges in the works, and you can read more about it here.
In the meantime, one of three forms of pasteruization is required and, here's the kicker - The treated nuts can still be labeled as raw almonds!
The first option is treatment with Propylene Oxide Gas (PPO). This is a carcinogenic gas that's been banned for use with food by the European Union, but still legal to use in the US. This substance is highly toxic and should be avoided at all costs!
The second option is heat pasteurization, which effectively cooks the nuts, and the almonds are not raw any longer, but cooked.
The third option uses a stream of steam to remove bacteria from the outer covering of the nut, but does not raise the temperature of the meat inside the nut. As such, this is widely considered the lesser of the three evils. Mr. Hyman's detailed description of this process can be found here.
I urge you to read more on this subject and be an informed consumer when it comes to pasteurized almonds.
You can sign a petition against the manadatory pasteurization of almonds.
Online petition - Mandatory Almond Pasteurization is WRONG!!!
If you'd like to learn more, try these links:
The Cornucopia Institute: The Authentic Almond Project
California Almonds - Tell me about pasteurization