Peanuts, pistachios, pepper, processing: The P's of salmonella
In the world of modern food, we need new adages about "trust"; and perhaps the adage for the product of food manufacturers should be something like, "trust what you know (and that means the parts and not just the sum)." Eyes of consumers are finally being opened to what is the real truth in the 21st century: for the most part, we have no idea where the ingredients in our food come from. What's more, neither do the foods' manufacturers.
Take pistachios, which were recalled yesterday and, at first blush, the alert looks as if it could be as widespread and enormous as the peanut butter recall (mollified a little by the fact peanuts are far more ubiquitous than pistachios). Kroger (NYSE: KR) recalled canned pistachios early yesterday; today, we hear that the nuts' originator, Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Calif., decided to recall its 2008 crop after Kraft (NYSE: KFT) tested some of its pistachio-containing products and found "several types of salmonella." What the possibly tainted pistachios ended up isn't clear, but Kraft pulled a trail mix with pistachios and other products to be pulled could include ice cream and cake mixes.
Here in Portland, ground pepper sold under the Lian How and Uncle Chen labels has sickened four people, with 38 more moaning and groaning due to the tainted spice in California, Washington and Nevada. The pepper has currently been traced to Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, but how far back up the food chain must we go to find the source of the contamination? Who could possibly know?
My rule with food is this: if you can't possibly figure out where the individual ingredients in your food were grown, especially the important ones, it's questionable. Unfortunately, not Kraft or Kroger, nor often their raw ingredient suppliers, could tell you where the tomatoes or peanuts or pistachios they sell were grown. Food safety? I'd settle just for food knowledge.