Those involved in the tree nut supply chain have the opportunity to help the Food and Drug Administration shape their future in terms of food safety and salmonella control.

The FDA is seeking comments and scientific data related to tree nuts and salmonella in preparation for a risk assessment and an evaluation of risk-based preventive controls for the foodborne pathogen, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

In a departure from the routine for comment requests, the tree nut topic is so significant and includes such major “data gaps” that FDA officials had an online seminar to encourage people in the supply chain — from growers to retailers — to submit information.

John Sheehan, director of the division of plant and dairy food safety at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said during the online session July 22 that outbreaks and recalls related to tree nuts in recent years demonstrate the need for information.

“We need your help to close the data gaps,” Sheehan said, adding that all tree nuts, including coconuts, are included in the request.

Karin Hoelzer, an FDA microbiologist who is project lead for the tree nut risk assessment, said the data gaps include questions such as when does salmonella contamination occur, does it vary with growing regions and different kinds of nuts, how long does salmonella survive on nuts in storage and whether cross contamination occurs during processing.

“Our goal is to determine risk and then use the data to determine how to mitigate the risk,” Hoelzer said.

The deadline to submit comments is Oct. 15. FDA officials said they hope to have a draft of their report in the fall or winter of 2014. Comments and data can be submitted online at by entering the docket number FDA–2013–N–0747 in the search field.

Information can be submitted to: the Division of Dockets Management (HFA–305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852.