Uncertainty exists with the deadline for pistachio growers to comply with the Produce Safety Rule (PSR) in the Food Safety Modernization Act drawing near.
Pistachio growers are required to follow the PSR for the 2018 harvest, says Linda Harris, chair of the Western Center for Food Safety (WCFS) located at the University of California, Davis campus.
Questions remain about training and water quality testing, but Harris says WCFS will hold a training event for California pistachio growers at a San Joaquin Valley location this December.
The PSR curriculum is not specific for pistachios, she says. The goal for training is to provide relevant information to help keep pistachio growers compliant with the required management practices under the rule. Growers need to begin the education process on produce safety and learn how the rules apply on their operations.
Currently, Harris says little data exists on food safety risks in pistachio production, especially on-farm practices. Still, growers need to understand the pieces so they can assess risks that could be on their farms.
On-farm contamination of pistachio nuts with salmonella or E.coli can come from humans, soil, water, and animals. Awareness of how these sources can possibly introduce pathogens to a crop can comes from evaluating management practices and the observation of daily operations. Just because pistachio nuts don’t hit the ground during harvest does not eliminate contamination risks, says Harris.
Sources of water, the orchard’s location from the nearest animal agriculture operation, and soil amendments used during production should all be evaluated and any risks noted. Some will be more challenging to overcome, she says.
For example, dust from a nearby dairy can be a source especially around pistachio harvest. Animal manure must be properly composted to eliminate pathogens. Contracting out harvest and employee training are two touch points that should be addressed to prevent human-introduced contamination.
PSR-required water quality sampling and documentation is an area which may not fit pistachio production. Harris says the rule applies to water that comes into contact with the product. This is unlikely with drip irrigation systems commonly used in pistachio orchards.
The one area that will require water sampling is the water used for foliar sprays. The use of public sourced-water or groundwater for tank mixes require only minimal sampling, yet surface water use triggers an extensive sampling requirement.
Harris says it’s recognized that some unique situations exist during the pistachio harvest regarding crop transport to handlers. The PSR’s traceability portion adds to the number of variables to gain compliance.
Harris says the two most common pathogens found on pistachio nuts are the salmonella strains Montevideo and Senftenberg. A survey examining pistachio nuts at processing facilities found that ‘floaters’ have a higher rate of contamination than ‘sinkers.’
One reason for this is floaters tend to have more hull material attached and pathogens are concentrated on hulls, she says. A delay in unloading harvested nuts at the processor can also increase pathogen contamination due to high moisture content in nuts.
The Produce Safety Alliance, a collaboration with Cornell University, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, helps growers meet regulatory demands. The Alliance has scheduled grower training sessions at several California locations in September and October.
Meeting dates, times, and locations are available online at https://tinyurl.com/yb275xsq.