If you think you’ve been eating raw almonds — don’t be so sure.
On September 1, 2007, the USDA, FDA and ABC (Almond Board of California) passed a federal mandate dictating the pasteurization of all almonds grown in the U.S.A., 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. In other words, 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 raw nutrition and sustainably grown. Rich in vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, riboflavin, phosphorus and copper, to name a few, raw almonds supply a bounty of healthful properties while reigning as the most alkalizing nut.
Reading that my purchased jar of almond butter used Californian almonds, I recalled the 2007 mandate on U.S. almond pasteurization. Feeling violated and lied to, I called the company for answers.
A senior representative reluctantly admitted their “raw” almonds were indeed steam pasteurized. The representative tried to rationalize the company’s moral misdoings by claiming the process only affects the outer skin. However, the outer skin is 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 that is the opposite of raw—not living, dead and, depending on the process, dangerous to ingest.
I won’t disclose the manufacturer of this particular little jar since they are not alone in their malarkey toting bold falsehoods. As a side note, they did offer me free samples of other, actually raw, nut butters in their line, which I accepted. However, I remain far from satisfied with their industrial scheme.
How are almonds “treated?”
Steam treatment, high heat (dry or oil) roasting, blanching and toxic fumigation with propylene oxide (PPO) are the main four methods for treating almonds. However, the most used methods are those of steam and PPO for organic and conventional almonds, respectively.
PPO fumigation, which is used for non-organic almonds, is repulsively dangerous. PPO is a highly toxic chemical that poses severe risks to human health. It’s a recognized carcinogen and a cause of disease according to the EPA. Further, PPO damages the liver, gastrointestinal, immune, developmental and respiratory systems with varied short and long-term exposure symptoms that range from inflamed lesions to neurological damage.
The American Motorcycle and Hot Rod Associations previously used PPO as fuel, but even they banned it once realizing its dangers. Further, Mexico, Canada and the entire European Union banned PPO due to its carcinogenic risks.
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 organic almonds and is the least invasive method of treatment, yet still is powerful enough to kill bacteria at temperatures that also void healthful properties. Nutritionists agree that raw, organic almonds are more nutritious than pasteurized almonds.
Why would public health be jeopardized in contrary attempts to protect it? Why would those in power purport such fabrications?
It isn’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 a 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 the 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 with the proposed rule until its enactment, while no efforts to inform the public were made.
In part for 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 for small-scale farmers.
The ABC provides equipment for its allies—dominating the market. Small-scale farmers simply can’t compete.
Merit worthy almond farmers using environmentally sound, sustainable methods for producing high quality nutritional food sources are diminishing from domestic and international markets.
Sustainable practices encourage biodiversity and prevent bacteria from spreading. In contrast, conventional methods create conditions for easy harvest by 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 and contaminates both land and food.
The Cornucopia Institute calls the pasteurization 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 we find actual raw, unpasteurized almonds?
Only almonds being sold commercially are restricted to the mandate. Therefore, 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:
Living Nutz is a great company supporting organic, minimally processed and healthy raw foods. You can purchase their “truly raw” almonds online.
Organic Pastures in California offers ‘Truly Raw Almonds” from their “On Farm” store, but the USDA will not permit raw almonds to be shipped from phone call orders at this time–there is a pending lawsuit trying to reverse this policy.
Check out Organic Pasture’s position on pasteurization, farming, labeling and legal issues for more information.
What is the solution?
The Cornucopia Institute highlights a valid solution: allow raw, organic almonds back into the market, but require labels warning of possible risks. This solution offers sustainable farmers the ability to survive in the almond business and bolster sustainable growing practices.
In addition, the U.S. should join the E.U., Canada, Mexico and the American Motorcycle and Hot Rod Associations and ban the use of PPO!
What can we do?
In efforts to inspire people and corporations to be cognizant of their practices and to ensure a healthy and sustainable future, Seth Leaf from Living Nutz initiated an online GoPetition against Mandatory Almond Pasteurization. With over 30,000 signatures, they need more—sign the e-petition!
The Cornucopia Institute is leading an Authentic Almond Project. I encourage you to check out their site and download the Cornucopia Institute Fact Sheet (PDF) on the Mandatory Sterilization of Almonds for more information and a comprehensive 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.
A flat-capped nomad, Mehdi Comeau enjoys adventuring, discovering and muse on people and life. As a keenly curious enviro-gastronome, it’s in his nature to pursue perpetual learning and growth, be outdoors, active and create crafty kitchen concoctions, while tuning in and allowing clues in life to guide. When he’s not engaged elsewhere, you’ll often find him writing with a green blend at his side. He likes the motto: everything in moderation and full appreciation. You can read a growing collection of his musings on his blog, SolsticeSon’s Celebrational Servings.
Ed: Alisha Bull