(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the December/January 2018 issue.)
Anyone who is part of the U.S. tree nut industry is well aware of the FDA’s regulation of almonds. Meanwhile, grown and processed primarily on the West Coast, tree nuts have historically escaped FDA regulatory oversight; however, recurring safety concerns have spurred the FDA into action. While current regulations only cover almonds grown, processed, and sold in the U.S., this was nonetheless felt across the industry, as California accounts for 80 percent of the world’s production of almonds. Given this background and recent recalls of other tree nuts, many industry professionals are wondering if the FDA will turn its eye to other tree nuts next.
A Growing Market
Tree nut production in the U.S. is a significant and growing market that encompasses walnuts, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamia, and peanuts. Today, consumers are increasingly looking for healthier and more natural snacks and food options, and this growing market demand has increased the number of people eating raw or out of the package nuts, which by their very nature increases their food safety risk profile. In addition, more effective testing and monitoring systems are providing alerts to potential contamination issues and, one can easily assume, resulting in additional recall actions. With an increased consumption of raw, organic, and natural products; consistent recalls; and a cloud of regulatory oversight, what is an industry to do?
Food Safety Leadership
While some companies in the industry are focused on what a potential FDA tree nut regulatory rollout would look like, others have or are capitalizing on their Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) action plans to enhance their food safety protocols. Agri-Neo has experienced this proactive approach firsthand from customers, as they implement innovative and validated pathogen control systems, such as Neo-Pure.
FSMA does not spell out a specific log reduction goal or the technology for tree nuts—that is a task for the FDA. What FSMA does require is risk assessment, driving a shift from a reactionary to a preventive posture for food safety. This provides a tremendous opportunity for businesses to adopt preventative controls of pathogens, establishing a first mover food safety advantage. Early adopters are using food safety as a key differentiator to win more business, while diminishing the likelihood of costly recalls that have an immediate financial impact and affect consumer perceptions of entire food categories. In addition, the tree nut industry can enhance its track record of self-regulation in advance of any potential FDA action.
In summary, pathogen control with a validated log reduction for tree nuts is going to be a must-have, versus a nice-to-have, in the near future. It’s only a matter of time before the FDA regulates other nuts, such as tree nuts, just like almonds, so let’s take this regulatory genie out of the bottle and address it in the open now.
Wong is president and COO of Agri-Neo. Reach him at [email protected].