So is there a difference in the quality of the almonds we consume? The FDA says no nutritional difference between pasturized almonds and non pasturized almonds, however the raw food community feels that the heating may affect the sprouting ability of the nut and changing from a living food to a raw food.
We decided to looking to the process of pasturization.
Protocols require all raw almonds sold in North America to be pasteurized by quick-steaming the nuts, or spraying them with propylene oxide (PPO), a chemical so nasty that it was banned by both the National Hot Rod and American Motorcycle Racing Associations, where it had been used as a fuel before being deemed too dangerous. For these and other reasons, most countries, including the EU, ban imported nuts treated with PPO.
The chemical propylene oxide used in the pasturisation process are ‘potentially carcinogenic”
So what are your choices?
Pasteurized : up to 82 % of world production comes from California and are therfore pasturized.
There are four main methods of pasteurizing almonds:
- steam processing,
- high heat treatment (roasting),
- highly toxic fumigation treatment with propylene oxide (PPO). Two are the primary methods used, which are steam processing, and PPO fumigation.
- The USDA is testing infrared heat emitters, a technology easy to install in existing almond processing facilities. The fact that the method doesn’t use chemicals or water makes it more environmentally friendly. In this process Almonds are exposed to 60 seconds of Ifrared heat.
Labeling laws allow producers to use the words Organic and RAW with out precise guidelines. So lets look at the options you might see when buying Almonds.
- RAW: may be labeled RAW even though it is pasturized by either steam or PPO.
- Organic: may be steam or water heated but no use of propylene oxide
- RAW organic : Difficult to know if these are really raw as labeling alows producers to put “RAW” on the label even if heat pasturized, but the organic statement means no PPO
- Sproutable RAW Organic: Sproutable means the nut is still viable as a seed and has not been subject to processes that might “kill” the seed. Most probably untreated , but very difficult to find, expensive and most probably from another country other than the USA, imported almonds from Spain or Italy.
- Find or start a raw almond buying group that buys almonds direct from almond farmers. There’s a loophole in the pasteurization law that makes it an option to get truly raw almonds as long as you buy them direct from a Californian farmer. Usually in small batches. Or buy from overseas in bulk.
Here are the details:
Yes, starting on September 1, 2007, it became illegal for 100% raw almonds to be manufactured and sold in the United States, with two exceptions (discussed below).
- The origins of this new law date back to 2001, when an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning in Canada was traced back to an almond grower in California.
- At that time, the California Department of Health Services worked with that grower to increase the safety of almond production.
- But when a second round of Salmonella problems occurred with an entirely different grower, the federal government stepped in to consider a more comprehensive set of actions.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), together with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), California Almond Board, and other agencies drafted legislation designed to prevent further Salmonella outbreaks based on post-harvest processing of almonds.
Specifically, these government agencies designed a mandatory pasteurization program in which handlers of almonds would be required to process the almonds in such a way that a dramatic reduction in the amount of Salmonella bacteria would take place. (In technical terms, a minimum 4-log reduction was set forth as the standard. A minimum 5-log reduction was also discussed, but not adopted.) To achieve this dramatic reduction in Salmonella bacteria, two major alternatives were envisioned:
- exposure to steam heat sufficient to raise the surface temperature of the almond kernels to about 200°F (93°C) or
- insertion of the kernels into a closed chamber where they could be exposed to propylene oxide gas (please note that fumigation with propylene oxide is not allowed in the processing of almonds if the almonds are going to be sold as certified organic).
Two exceptions to these processing requirements were included in the legislation.
- First, almond growers can receive exemption from these requirements if they can show that their ordinary manufacturing process achieves the same minimum 4-log reduction in Salmonella content. For example, their ordinary manufacturing process might include enough dry roasting or blanching to accomplish this same goal.
- Second, almond growers can also receive exemption if they will only be selling their almonds directly to customers at local markets, with a limit of 100 pounds per person per day in direct farmer’s market sales.
What are the health implications of this new legislation that went into effect on September 1, 2007?
- Potentially problematic almonds being prevented from entering the marketplace, and that prevention will be a good thing.
- Nutrient loss in steam-heated almonds that will be unwanted, and, in the case of many almonds, also unnecessary.
- Propylene oxide residues in almonds that were gassed to reduce Salmonella concentrations, and this will be a bad thing because propylene oxide is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a probable human carcinogen.
Yet, in the meantime, if you are looking for 100% raw, organically grown almonds, your options are:
- purchase from a grower at a local farmer’s market, from a grower who has received exemption from the mandatory processing rules,
- or from a certified organic almond grower outside of the United States who exports almonds to this country.