Events earlier this year have Oregon hazelnuts and their growers on hold this fall. Predictions set the beginning of harvest around mid-October in most orchards because of delayed nut development following unusual spring weather.
No one’s predicting how long growers will be waiting for a food safety guidance document from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Representatives from the FDA met via teleconference in May with industry representatives for a nonpublic discussion about what the growers and packers are doing to avoid pathogen contamination.
The meeting followed an E. coli outbreak and March recall by repacker DeFranco & Sons, Los Angeles — it preceded a July FDA warning letter to George Packing Co., Newberg, Ore., the company that supplied the nuts to DeFranco.
Polly Owen, manager of the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board, participated in the conference call with the FDA and said afterward that government officials said they would issue a guidance document.
In mid-September Owen said no document had been issued, and there had not been any communication from the government regarding it. She said the board and the 650 growers and 20 packers who work with it had already decided not to wait for it. They have gone ahead with previous plans to increase and ensure food safety practices.
“We are looking to make sure everyone is on the same page this fall,” Owen said Sept. 14. “We all think it is important to make sure the (nuts) are safe and not just appease the FDA.”
Neither Larry George, president of George Packing Co. nor FDA officials could be reached for comment on the status of the July warning letter regarding sanitary conditions at a packing facility.
Grower John Sullivan, Vida, Ore., is former president of the Nut Growers Society of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, Canada. He said the hazelnut industry has been “intent on building a plan for the future” since 2004.
“This (outbreak) didn’t sneak up on us because we’ve been talking about food safety and how to improve it, but we didn’t expect it to have the problem (with in-shell nuts),” Sullivan said.
The fact that in-shell nuts hadn’t previously been linked to the particular pathogen involved in the outbreak caused it to generate more attention than it might have otherwise, Owen said.
The outbreak and subsequent recall didn’t have much impact on the industry, according to Owen, Sullivan and Paul DeFranco, co-owner of DeFranco & Sons.