Pistachio Growers in Arizona Bracing for Impact of Salmonella Warning


Arizona pistachio farmers are hoping the government soon lifts a blanket warning against eating the nuts, which was issued after a California batch tested positive for salmonella.

So far, there's no indication the illness-causing bacteria infects any Arizona products, but the FDA wants people to avoid anything containing pistachios until further notice. In the meantime, the state's pistachio growers are waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to get more specific about the problem.

A woman who answered the phone at Arizona Pistachio, a large grower with farms in Cochise County, didn't want to talk about salmonella, except to say her products were safe and not part of the recall. 

No doubt, pistachio growers and marketers view the FDA's statement negatively, but it's too soon to tell how hard the industry's getting hammered, says Richard Matoian, executive director of the Western Pistachio Association in Fresno, California.

Growers understand the need for the blanket warning even though the contaminated nuts all seem to have come from Setton Pistachio of California, Motian says.

"If you buy a trail mix, how do you know who's pistachios are in there?" he says. "Our hope is once the individual products are identified, consumers will feel confident to go back and purchase (cleared) products)."

The word around the shell pile is that the "avoid all pistachios" warning will be taken down within a few days.

Arizona is the second largest producer of pistachios in the United States, harvesting 5.5 million pounds last year. That's a hill of beans compared to California's haul of 278 million pounds, though. 

The FDA says the new salmonella scare isn't linked to the ongoing problem with peanut butter. Hard to tell if that's a good thing or not.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.