Raw = Cooked? Lies, Labels and Almonds
Original article published on elephant journal
If you think you’ve been eating raw almonds–don’t be so sure.
In response to two Salmonella outbreaks, one in 2001 and 2004 in Oregon and Canada, an almond pasteurization ruling was presented as an initiative to protect public health.
On September 1, 2007, the USDA, FDA and ABC (Almond Board of California) passed a federal mandate dictating pasteurization of all almonds grown in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
In conjunction, the ABC and federal government support labeling pasteurized almonds as raw, leaving “Individual manufacturers and retailers to determine their labeling practices,” meaning even conventional, chemically treated almonds can legally be deceptively labeled and sold as raw.
Earlier this year I purchased a small, expensive jar of raw almond butter–free of chemicals, boosting with living nutrition and sustainably grown. Raw almonds supply a bounty of health benefits being rich in Vitamin E, Manganese, Magnesium, Riboflavin, Phosphorus and Copper, while also reigning as the most alkalizing nut.
Reading they used Californian almonds, the 2007 mandate on U.S. almond pasteurization resurfaced in memory.
Feeling violated and lied to; I called the company for answers.
A senior representative reluctantly admitted their ‘raw’ almonds were indeed steam pasteurized, trying to rationalize moral misdoings by claiming the process only affects the outer skin–where the majority of nutrients in fruits and vegetables reside, mind you.
Nevertheless, any process strong enough to kill Salmonella creates a product by definition the opposite of raw–not living; dead, and depending on the process, dangerous to ingest.
I won’t disclose the company of this particular little jar since they are not alone in their malarkey toting bold falsehoods.
They offered free samples of other, actually raw, nut butters in their line, which I accepted, but was far from satisfied with the industrial scheme.
How are almonds ‘treated’?
While steam, high heat (dry or oil) roasting, blanching and toxic fumigation with propylene oxide (PPO) are the main four methods, steam and PPO for organic and conventional are most commonly used, respectively.
PPO fumigation used for non-organics is repulsively dangerous. PPO is a highly toxic chemical that poses severe risks to human health. Recognized as a carcinogen and cause of disease by the EPA, it’s known to damage the liver, gastrointestinal, immune, developmental, and respiratory systems, with varied short and long-term exposure symptoms ranging from skin irritation to neurological damage.
The American Motorcycle and Hot Rod Associations used to use PPO as fuel, but even they banned it once realizing its dangers, while carcinogenic risks led Mexico, Canada and the entire European Union to ban it from use in food for human consumption.
Conventionally grown almonds absorb a fair level of chemicals as is. Frosting the cake with PPO makes places them on high health risk alert: beware of industrial almonds!
Steam treatment is generally used for organics, which is least invasive, yet still meets requirements to kill bacteria at temperatures that void healthful properties. Nutritionists agree that raw, organic almonds are superiorly nutritious to pasteurized almonds.
Why would public health be jeopardized in contrary attempts to protect it–why would those in power purport such fabrications?
It wasn’t for our safety. While meat, eggs and dairy substantiate pasteurization and cooking to avoid food-borne illness, there is no scientific evidence proving almonds to be innately dangerous. Almonds require direct transfer from unsanitary environments and practices to become contaminated with Salmonella.
Peanuts, spinach and other produce have had significant Salmonella outbreaks as well, yet have not garnered similar protocol. Why?
It’s business. The global economy is competitive. The ABC is comprised of industrial almond growers who have substantial money and influence and likely to want to rid competition.
Imposing pasteurization regulations as part of a scheme to control the industry helped the ABC direct prices, eliminate competition and monopolize their industrial ‘turf’.
The pasteurization program was developed through research conducted by, guess who, the Almond Board of California.
The USDA alerted a select elite subset within the industry when the rule was first proposed. According to Cornucopia Institute only 115 select growers and handlers (out of over 6,000) were asked for their input in an initial 45-day comment period.
Others in the almond business were not acquainted until enactment, while no efforts to inform the public were made.
Just, transparent, acceptable? I think not.
In part of driving out competition, pasteurization equipment is unreasonably expensive for small-scale farmers. If they don’t have equipment, they’re forced to ship to and from a treatment facility, costing them potential profit. Both options are out of reach.
The ABC provides equipment for its allies–dominating the market. ‘Little’ growers simply can’t compete.
Merit worthy almond farmers using environmentally sound, sustainable methods producing high quality nutritional food sources are diminishing and being cut from domestic and international markets.
Sustainable practices encourage biodiversity and prevent bacteria from spreading, while conventional methods create conditions for easy harvest, using chemicals to destroy undergrowth and organisms–including those that keep opportunistic pathogens at bay. The former enhances soil and creates clean food, while the latter destroys soil, contaminating land and food.
Cornucopia Institute calls the mandate a ‘technological Band-Aid,’ when ‘the USDA and ABC research should focus on organic and sustainable farming in preventing Salmonella and other bacterial outbreaks.’
Where can you find actual raw, unpasteurized almonds?
Only almonds being sold commercially are restricted to the mandate, so if you or anyone you know grows almonds, indulge! Like raw milk, it is legal to buy direct from farmers.
There are also a handful of online sources for organic, non-pasteurized almonds:
Fine Sicilian almonds and almond butter is available online from Live Superfoods.
You can also order Spanish and Italian almonds from Jaffe Bros. natural foods.
Organic Pastures in California offers ‘Truly Raw Almonds’ from their ‘On Farm’ store, however their policies and restrictions are complicated. Check out Organic Pasture’s position on pasteurization, farming, labeling and legal issues for more information.
What could be done?
Cornucopia Institute highlights a valid solution: allow raw, organic almonds back into the market, requiring labels warning of potential risks, offering sustainable farmers agency to survive the almond business and bolster sustainable growing practices.
The U.S. should join the E.U., Canada, Mexico and the American Motorcycle and Hot Rod Associations and ban PPO–from food, land and animal feed!
What can you do?
In efforts to inspire people and corporations to be cognizant of their choices and practices to ensure a healthy and sustainable future, Seth Leaf from Living Nutz started an online GoPetition against mandatory almond pasteurization.
With over 30,000 signatures, they need more–sign the petition!
The Cornucopia Institute leads an Authentic Almond Project. I encourage you to check out their site and download (PDF) the Cornucopia Institute Fact Sheet on the Mandatory Sterilization of Almonds for more information and a review of issues discussed
Were you aware of these issues already? Are there any policy updates? Please share your thoughts and opinions, and always be a conscious consumer, wary of what you read and eat.
Check out original publication on elephant journal