- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

COMMACK, N.Y. | The probe into a nationwide salmonella scare over pistachio nuts shifted Thursday from a California nut processor to its sister company in New York, where inspectors last month found cockroaches and rodent droppings.

The Food and Drug Administration said Commack-based Setton International Foods Inc. shares key staff and packages food with Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., the nation’s second-largest pistachio processor. The central California plant earlier this week recalled 2 million pounds of nuts over fears of possible salmonella contamination.

A spokesman for both companies said the California plant supplies all pistachios used in the 50,000-square-foot Long Island processing facility, which makes chocolate- and yogurt-coated nuts and dried fruit.

Last month, New York agricultural authorities discovered nearly two dozen dead cockroaches, rodent droppings and one live cockroach on an ingredient rolling rack inside the Commack plant. It failed its state health inspection.

Lee Cohen, production manager for Setton International Foods, said Thursday the plant has stopped shipping pistachios and addressed the health and safety concerns. He said the problems weren’t related to the recall and the plant is now spotless.

Inspectors went back for a second visit Wednesday to swab the plant and take food samples to be tested for salmonella and other pathogens as part of the pistachio recall, said Jessica Chittenden, director of communications for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The test results are pending.

“Right now nothing is moving out of that plant. They’re holding all products with pistachios in them,” Ms. Chittenden said. “When we were in there yesterday to collect samples, they were cooperative, and we observed that they are working on the issues that we had outlined in our last inspection.”

Ms. Chittenden said she was told federal inspectors also had visited the plant this week. The FDA said the agency was “investigating all aspects of the company’s operations” but could not disclose details.

A security guard at the plant turned away reporters seeking comment Thursday and directed them to a spokeswoman who did not respond to calls.

So far, there have been no confirmed reports of illness linked to the recalled nuts.

Still, federal health officials warned people this week to avoid eating all pistachios and products containing them while they determine what foods could be tainted. In the meantime, a range of products from nut bars to ice cream and cake mixes remain in limbo on grocery shelves, and the number of recalled products continues to grow.

Setton International Foods has not issued its own recall, Ms. Chittenden said.


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