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article imageSalmonella contamination hurting Hawaii's macadamia nut industry

By Karen Graham     Feb 23, 2016 in Food
Hawaii's Big Island not only features black sand beaches and five volcanoes, but it is the home of world-famous Kona coffee and macadamia nuts.
Introduced into Hawaii in the 1880s, macadamia or "Mac" nuts as they are called in the Islands are native to Australia. It wasn't until the 1950s that macadamia nuts became an important export crop.
The tall macadamia trees are evergreens, reaching 30 to 40 feet in height. The nuts are enclosed in a husk that splits open when they mature and are usually manually harvested from the ground and sometimes, the tree.
According to Food Safety News, the nuts are dried, husked, shelled and roasted, although some are dehydrated and sold as “raw.”
John Cross, the president of the 53-member Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association says Hawaii produces almost 50 million pounds of macadamia nuts annually, with nearly all the nuts coming from the Big Island. Cross himself also manages 1,200 acres of macadamia trees for the Hilo-based Edmund C. Olson Trust.
Macadamia integrifolia (habit). Location: Maui  Old macadamia nut orchards Waiehu.
Macadamia integrifolia (habit). Location: Maui, Old macadamia nut orchards Waiehu.
Forest and Kim Starr
Macadamia nut industry and Salmonella contamination
Obviously, the growers and producers in the Hawaiian macadamia nut industry on focused on selling a safe commodity to the public and complying with requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA). However, there is concern over the number of recalls due to Salmonella contamination.
“I am sympathetic to this trend toward a raw food diet, but as an industry, we’ve got to figure out how to get a raw macadamia treated so it is contaminant-free,” Cross said recently.
While Cross may be interested in trying to figure out a way to treat macadamia nuts so they will be contaminate-free, it doesn't change the fact that in 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted, at least a dozen recalls involving macadamia nuts with another three recalls already issued in 2016.
All of this year’s recalls to date involved nuts from Mahina Mele Farm south of Captain Cook. The farm also had a recall in August 2015 of one lot of macadamia nuts and nut butters due to potential Salmonella contamination.
Mahina Mele Farm is the only certified organic macadamia nut processor in the U.S. and has been in operation since 2003. The farm's first voluntary recall this year, on Jan. 21 involved three lots of macadamia nuts and nut butters distributed to retails stores in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maryland and Virginia between Oct. 21 and Nov. 25, 2015.
The second recall, on Feb. 3, 2016, expanded that initial recall and covered all lots currently on the market. On Feb. 5, 2016, Living Tree Community Foods in Berkeley, CA, issued a recall of macadamia nuts and nut butters sold under its own label but supplied by Mahina Mele Farm. All three of the 2016 recalls targeted raw macadamia nuts and was prompted by FDA testing.
“It was a random sample that they took off the shelf, and we’ve been working with the FDA real closely for the last few weeks. There was no Salmonella found in my facility or in any of the nuts after that lot,” said Kollette Stith, who owns and operates the family farm with her husband, Jason Stith.
Stith claims that Salmonella is killed if the nuts are held at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, and apparently, something went awry in their dehydrator and the temperature wasn't maintained. The farm's dehydrators didn't have alarms, but Stith says they have been installed since this last recall.
After this year's recalls were announced, all involving raw macadamia nuts, Cross issued a statement on behalf of the association members: “All of the Hawaiian Macadamia Industry processors roast their macadamia nut kernel. No ‘raw’ kernel is sold into the market. The processors roast to the highest standards as dictated by Good Manufacturing Practices, (GMPs). This assures the buyers and consumers of roasted Hawaiian macadamia nuts the safest, healthiest, and best tasting nut possible.”
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