Above all, the Almond Board of California (ABC) is committed to providing consumers with almonds that are both delicious and safe to eat. The ABC Food Safety Technical Expert Review Panel (TERP) recently approved a new tool to its arsenal of systems used to pasteurize almonds while maintaining their nutritional value and raw characteristics.
The California almond industry voluntarily took the step to pasteurize almonds more than a decade ago. Then in 2007, the industry implemented a regulation requiring pasteurization for California almonds shipped within North America. Traditional methods include blanching, roasting, and steaming, among other processes. In addition to steam and moist heat technologies accepted by the ABC TERP and widely used, a specific application of radio frequency recently has been approved.
Radio frequency utilizes strong electromagnets that rapidly switch polarity, creating friction and heat inside of water molecules, killing pathogens, pests, and fungi.
“We pasteurize almonds because we have a responsibility to provide a safe, pathogen-free, nutritious food product,” said Tim Birmingham, the Director of QA and Industry Services at the Almond Board.
“The California almond community conducted research over a nine-year period and learned there is a low level presence of salmonella in the soil across the California almond growing region, regardless of location, soil type, growing practices or age of orchard,” said Birmingham. “Once we were aware of this risk, we knew it was our responsibility to consumers to do something about it.”
The almond industry utilizes a variety of pasteurization methods, many of which maintain the raw characteristics, such as steam and moist heat, as well as this latest radio frequency system.
“Having options for our industry and customers is great for almonds, as one size truly does not fit all,” said Birmingham.
Approval of a new pasteurization method is a major undertaking for the equipment manufacturer and the ABC. Each process system must be validated by an ABC-approved Process Authority (PA). A rigorous testing process must demonstrate the ability to deliver a specific level of salmonella bacteria destruction on almonds and determine appropriate operating parameters to ensure that the system always delivers the minimum process.
Process technologies shown to deliver a minimum 4-log destruction of Salmonella bacteria on almonds per review by the ABC Technical Expert Review Panel are:
TERP scrutinizes all ABC approved processes and the industry today uses more than 200 validated almond pasteurization processes to reduce possible microbial levels in almonds, ensuring a product that is both delicious and nutritious for the whole family to enjoy.