Dispelling The Raw Almond Controversy

Almond Packaging

Every day we learn more about the increasing health benefits of nuts, especially almonds. From heart health, to weight management, to cancer prevention, almonds are more than a snacking option or booster item for holiday sales. With so many almond variations such as almond milk, paste, flour, butter, oil, or meal, there are endless possibilities for produce rings.

Regardless of the season or variety, one element remains true for all almonds. They must be pasteurized, and it’s important to clearly merchandise almonds in the appropriate fashion. “The term, ‘raw almonds’ can carry multiple meanings,” says Stephanie Blackwell, founder and president of Aurora Products, located in Orange, CT. “The Almond Board of California has been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to institute an industry-wide U.S. pasteurization program that ensures U.S. consumers are provided with the safest, most wholesome almonds.”

In response to outbreaks of Salmonella in 2001 and 2004 traced to raw almonds grown in California, the Almond Board of California and the USDA created a mandatory program requiring all raw almonds to be sterilized through one of several treatment processes. With the help of the FDA to evaluate and approve the treatment process, the regulations took effect on September 1, 2007.

“We don’t sell raw almonds,” says Larry Griffith, Midwest business manager with Mariani Nut Company, Winters, CA. “Everything we sell has to be pasteurized. The government requires it. There’s no option for us or any other major manufacturers or growers. The government stepped in and said from now on they have to be pasteurized to kill all the bugs.”

“In a nutshell (pun intended), all out-of-shell almonds sold within the U.S. are pasteurized to kill any potentially harmful pathogens before they reach the store shelf,” says Aurora’s Blackwell. “Many consumers view this pasteurization step as a negation of the almonds’ ‘raw’ status — where truly ‘raw’ almonds are only those that have not undergone any heat, steam, etc. treatments. The logic behind this is that heat-treated raw almonds can lose their fats, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria. To avoid confusion, Aurora chooses to not label its non-roasted almonds as ‘raw’ and instead lists them simply as ‘Almonds.’”

Susan Brauner, director of public affairs with Sacramento, CA- based Blue Diamond Growers confirms that all almond handlers follow and support an industry mandated pasteurization program for all natural almonds consumed in the U.S., and that the program was upheld in a federal court ruling.

“We always seek to ensure that the health and safety of our consumers are top priority,” says Marc Seguin, vice president of marketing for Paramount Farms International in Bakersfield, CA. “As a result, we pasteurize our raw almonds in accordance with the FDA’s approved treatments.”

According to the program’s guidelines (listed on the Almond Board of California’s website), approved pasteurization methods include: oil roasting, dry roasting, blanching, steam processing, and propylene oxide (PPO) treatment.

In regards to labeling, the guidelines stipulate that the FDA determined that raw almonds, whether treated via steam or PPO methods or untreated may be labeled raw. The Almond Board of California does not have any consumer labeling authority over almonds or products made with almonds. Individual manufacturers and retailers determine their own labeling practices based on FDA requirements.

According to the Cornucopia Institute (an organization based in Cornucopia, WI that researches and investigates agricultural issues), only growers selling almonds from a roadside stand or at farmers markets are able to sell truly raw, nonpasteurized almonds to consumers, and with a quantity limited to a maximum of 100 pounds per person.