Sunday June 20th, 2010
My Nuts Are Being Gassed
I don't quite remember how or when, but I recently found out that my almonds are being gassed with propylene oxide thanks to the Almond Board of California. Due to two salmonella outbreaks in 2001 and 2004, a law was passed requiring all raw almonds sold by U.S. farmers to be 'pasteurized' effective September 1, 2007. There are alternatives to propylene oxide in order to 'pasteurize' almonds, including oil roasting and steam heating, but now the raw almonds are no longer raw, plus these alternatives are more expensive than using propylene oxide. Furthermore, the root cause of the salmonella outbreak was never found or understood. So, instead of having the machinery cleaned properly and the production process reviewed, almond production can now be unclean because the almonds will be gassed anyway. But here's the thing that is really irksome, there is no notification or labeling required to inform the consumer! Consumer's rights are completely ignored. The almonds that are labeled "raw" have been gassed with propylene oxide, a chemical mostly used for making plastics and a known carcinogen!

So let me back up as I have a couple questions. Why are almonds the only food fumigated with propylene oxide? Why continue to allow fumigated almonds to be labeled "raw"? Why do exported almonds not have to be fumigated with propylene oxide? That last question I can answer quite easily: because other countries will not import gassed almonds! Due to the known toxicity of the chemical it is banned in Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. Oh, and here are more oddities. Organic farmers are not immune to this law, their almonds must also be pasteurized. Truly raw almonds can still be purchased in the United States, but only imported from other countries or directly from the grower at a farmer's market. Really? What kind of stupid law is this? Why have so many caveats and loopholes?

The equipment to sterilize almonds is expensive. A propylene oxide chamber costs over $500,000 and a roasting line can cost as much as two million dollars. Not a big expense to the large almond manufacturers, but quite expensive to local, organic farmers. This lopsided law is devastating the small and organic farmers economically so they've petitioned a lawsuit to overturn the almond pasteurization ruling. As far as understanding why propylene oxide is used on almonds and no other food, I could not find any information.

So, what are the proponents of pasteurization saying? According to the Almond Board of California, propylene oxide is safe because the almonds after being gassed contain only 1/2500 of the amount considered to be potentially dangerous. Also, since the gassed almonds are able to sprout, the FDA has deemed that the essential characteristics of the almond are unchanged, thus it is acceptable to continue to label the almond as raw.

Here's my problem. Instead of fixing the problem of unclean machinery and mishandling of almonds, these poor practices are now condoned. Second, there is no way for consumers to know what has happened to their food or to have an option on what to purchase. Could you please stop making decisions for me without notifying me of what's going on!
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