(Aug. 21) The U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied a request from the Almond Board of California to delay for six months implementation of an almond pasteurization program, meaning the program would go into effect as scheduled on Sept. 1.

However, the federal agency made certain the industry will be able to supply its retail and foodservice customers.

It was the almond board that developed the pasteurization program and recommended its adoption by the Department of Agriculture. The stumbling block came in the form of the paperwork required to certify pasteurization equipment.

“The almond board is convinced there is enough pasteurization capacity,” said Marsha Venable, the board’s assistant manager for marketing services. “It’s just that we don’t have all the equipment certified.”

Provided the equipment has been tested and passed, the Department of Agriculture approved using the equipment even though the certification paperwork may not have been reviewed, she said.

“Everyone wants to get this program implemented,” said Richard Waycott, president and chief executive officer of the almond board. “We’ve worked long and hard to get enough options for the industry in terms of capacity, different pasteurization technologies and plans for how each handler is going to go about complying with this rule.”

“There’ll be a few hiccoughs and bottlenecks getting under way but we’ll deal with those problems as they arise,” he said.

The bottom line is that the industry is providing an increasingly safer product for customers and consumers, Waycott said.

There were two recalls of almonds due to the presence of salmonella early in this decade. After those recalls, Venable said the almond board held a series of meetings with California grower-shippers and conducted substantial research. It ultimately proposed to the federal agency an action plan that required pasteurizing the nuts, she said.

That proposal went to the Department of Agriculture in August of last year. Grower-shipper concerns about having enough certified pasteurization equipment in the upcoming heavy harvest and processing months led to the request for the delay, Waycott said.