This couldn’t be timed more poorly, with holiday baking and all, but it looks like salmonella was found at one of the shelling plants for Oregon’s hazelnut crop, in Newburg, OR. For more information, see the Oregon Department of Agriculture recall notice here.
As far as food-borne illnesses go, salmonella is usually relatively mild, unless an infected person is in one of the risk groups (infant, elderly, compromised immune system), and common as dirt. Unlike e. coli, which has wider and more devastating consequences, salmonella can be easily caught and easily overcome. It lives in the intestines of otherwise healthy humans and animals, and is spread through animal or human waste products coming in contact with food. (It’s one of the reasons you are urged to wash your hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom.)
In a processing facility, where contaminated products are circulated and touched and redistributed, the possible contamination threat grows greater, of course.
Salmonella is always a small threat — you probably have some in your refrigerator right now. At the very least, you needn’t fear your locally purchased nuts any more than you would any other crop, since vegetables, eggs, dairy, and everything else are always subject to salmonella. The salad depicted above, for example, could be laden with salmonella if an infected animal made its way through the arugula patch, or the pears were handled by a worker who didn’t wash his hands, or the blue cheese was crumbled by a chef who was careless about cross-contamination with raw meat on the kitchen counter.
This recall is going to needlessly devastate sales of these nuts and local farmers dependent upon the income for the crop. It looks like the salmonella they found was localized to one place and caught at the distributor. The notice says that hazelnuts in the shell are still fine, even if you do buy them at a larger scale, but the vast majority of hazelnuts that are shelled are perfectly OK, too. If you bought your hazelnuts from small farms, such as Freddy Guys or Detering’s, or micro-networks, such as the farm stand at River Bend Farm that sells nuts from a local orchard, you needn’t fear purchases or throw away your nuts.
One can also buy the highest quality plump, fresh, new-crop hazelnuts from middlemen like the OSU Extension-Lane County Master Food Preservers who accept nuts, shell and bag them, and sell them as fundraisers in the Willamette Valley. We still have bags left! Hazelnuts AND walnuts AND almonds, oh my — all from the 2009 crop and lovingly hand-shelled by our volunteers. The quality is better than anything I’ve ever seen. I would strongly encourage it, and not just because I’m interested in keeping Extension programs alive by any means necessary (and by the way, one of the services the MFP program provides is answering questions from the community about food safety recalls like this one).
So…if you are local and suddenly in need of hazelnuts because of the recall OR you have questions about nuts you have purchased, please call the MFP hotline and leave a message at 541-682-4246, or drop by the OSU Extension office next to the Fairgrounds (950 W. 13th, Eugene) on weekdays (M-Th, 10-1, 2-5).
Support your local hazelnut farmers — this is going to hurt in a year defined by hurt.