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.
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.
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.
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.