Consumers around the world enjoy a consistently high-quality product in California Almonds. The industry’s quality control programs have played a key role in helping almonds to become a “Nut of Choice.” Consumers expect safe food, and this section will provide tips and resources to help maintain and exceed those consumer expectations.

AFLATOXIN

AFLATOXIN

Aflatoxins are naturally occurring chemicals produced by certain molds, mainly Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus. The main health concern of aflatoxins is their potential carcinogenicity. Chronic exposure to aflatoxins can increase the risk of developing liver cancer.

Aflatoxin-producing molds are common in nature, affecting a number of crops. In almonds, the source of the contamination is from the soil, previously infested almonds (mummy nuts), and navel orangeworm (NOW) or other pests. Spores of the molds can be transferred by NOW and grow on nutmeats that have been damaged. Favorable conditions for mold growth include high moisture content and high temperatures.

Because they are a carcinogen, tolerances for aflatoxins have been established by certain countries to reduce risk of exposure. When almonds are tested in the lab for aflatoxins and are found to have levels above the allowable limits by country, the consignment will have to be reconditioned or rejected, with significant monetary losses to the grower and handler.


Preventing Aflatoxins

The almond industry has programs and procedures in place to minimize aflatoxins at every stage of production — not just in response to sampling, testing and processing, but also focusing on the orchard environment, where aflatoxin contamination begins and where it must be addressed.

Growers can reduce the potential for aflatoxin growth by minimizing navel orangeworm (NOW) damage.


NOW prevention can be accomplished by:

  • Winter sanitation. The removal of mummy nuts — those that remain on the tree after harvest — before budswell, on or by Feb. 1. Mummy nuts are the prime harborage of overwintering NOW, and their removal is the most effective control method. After removal, they should be destroyed by March 15.
  • Early harvest. When almonds are harvested as soon as possible after they mature and are promptly removed from the orchard, a third generation of egg-laying is avoided.
  • Stockpile management. When in-hull almonds are stockpiled, moisture in the almonds combined with hot weather creates a breeding ground for the Aspergillus mold to grow and produce aflatoxins. Following Good Agricultural Practices will help prevent the growth of molds.
  • In-season treatment. If winter sanitation and early-harvest guidelines are followed, an in-season treatment for NOW may not be necessary. A harvest sample can help determine if treatments are required.

Complete NOW management guidelines, including treatment options, can be found on the Web at the UC IPM website.

With NOW damage to kernels minimized in the orchard, the California Almond industry can continue to provide high-quality product to all markets, and with increased surveillance for aflatoxin by handlers, key export markets that have tolerances are assured a high-quality product that meets their standards.


Aflatoxins and Market Ramifications

Because they are a carcinogen, tolerances for aflatoxins have been established to reduce risk of exposure. When almonds are tested in the lab for aflatoxins and are found to have levels above the allowable limits, the consignment has to be reprocessed or rejected, with significant monetary losses to the grower and handler.


PEC

Pre Export Checks (PEC)
 
One of the largest markets for California Almonds — the European Union (EU) — also has one of the lowest allowable limits for aflatoxin contamination on almonds, currently 10 ppb total, with 8 ppb B1. Increased rejections of California Almond consignments led to additional import monitoring in the EU. As of Sept. 1, 2007, the EU implemented Special Measures, which called for mandatory testing of California Almonds imported to EU member countries.  
 
The California Almond industry developed the Voluntary Aflatoxin Sampling Plan (VASP) which utilized comparable EU sampling protocols and testing procedures at USDA-approved laboratories prior to shipment. These procedures were considered to provide sufficient assurances such that almonds shipped with a VASP certificate were subject to approximately 5% testing upon import into Europe, whereas without a VASP certificate, almonds were subject to 100% control.
 
Due to the success the VASP Program, the EU took California Almonds off of Special Measures in September 2014. The California Almond industry was then able to transition to Pre Export Checks (PEC) and build upon the successful legacy of the VASP program. EU Regulation 2015/949 was published on June 19, 2015 which directs EU port authorities to subject U.S. almond consignments with a PEC certificate to less than 1% controls at the border. The PEC program was enacted for shipments to the EU after August 1, 2015. Being a voluntary program, a PEC certificate is not a requirement for import into the EU.
 
California Almond handlers who ship consignments classified under CN codes 0802.11 and 0802.12 for bulk inshell and shelled lots to the European Union (EU) under the PEC Program are required to sign an annual Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Almond Board of California (ABC). Along with a signed current MOU, PEC participants are given a PEC Program Manual and are trained in how to use the ePEC system by ABC staff. Additionally, all PEC participates are subjected to ABC and USDA oversight to ensure program conformance.
 
 

USDA-Approved Labs for PEC Program

PEC analyses must be conducted by a USDA-approved laboratory. Only USDA-approved laboratories are authorized to input results into a PEC analysis certificate.

The participating labs have been evaluated and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service, Science and Laboratories Program.

View list of approved USDA labs.


PEC Addendum Letter

The Pre-Export Check (PEC) certificate program has been a tremendous success since its inception on August 1, 2015. Though we have experienced success, there has been one reoccurring minor issue, international contact information in box I.6 Person responsible for the consignment in the EU.  The Almond Board of California (ABC) understands that this information may not always be available at the time the PEC certificate is signed off by the USDA. Once the USDA signs off on the PEC certificate, it is considered permanent and cannot be adjusted.  This has caused the PEC certificate to be sent forward with box I.6 vacant. Several consignments have experienced delays at customs upon arrival due to and empty box I.6.

To mitigate this problem, ABC created the PEC addendum letter. The letter can be sent outside the PEC system as an addition to the PEC certificate. Information on the letter looks very similar to the PEC certificate but only contains the relevant fields.  Please note that this will not replace the aflatoxin analysis or Annex II (USDA signature page.)  Feedback from our European partners, government officials, local port authorities and Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) offices have all been positive.

The new addendum letter can be downloaded here (PDF). [Note: Right-click to save the PDF to your desktop and use Adobe Acrobat to open it. This file will not preview in your internet browser.] Only fields highlighted in blue must be filled out by the shipping party (handler, trader, broker, etc.) This is a standardized letter; it needs to be consistent among suppliers. The format and wording should not be changed to avoid confusion among the import authorities. Again, the shipper only needs to fill out the blue highlighted areas.

If you have additional questions please feel free to contact Beth Van Meter (evanmeter@almondboard.com) or Julie Adams (jadams@almondboard.com).