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US FDA checks New York nut plant

THE investigation into a United States-wide salmonella scare over pistachio nuts has spread from a California nut processor to its sister plant in New York, where inspectors last month found cockroaches and rodent droppings.

The Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday that it was investigating New York-based Setton International Foods Inc, which shares key staff and packages food with a plant in central California that earlier this week recalled 2 million pounds of nuts over fears of possible salmonella contamination.

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc is the second-largest US pistachio processor. A spokesman for both companies said the California plant supplies all pistachios used in the Long Island processing facility, which makes chocolate- and yogurt-covered nuts and dried fruit.

Last month, New York agricultural authorities discovered nearly two dozen dead cockroaches, rodent droppings and one live cockroach on an ingredient-rolling rack inside the New York plant. It failed its state health inspection.

Production Manager Lee Cohen said on Thursday that the plant is now spotless and the problems - completely unrelated to the recall over salmonella concerns - were fixed immediately. The facility, which is among the 36 wholesalers that got nuts from the California operation, plans to recall some of its nuts and trail mix voluntarily in the coming weeks, he said.

"Our facility in New York is beautiful and clean. You can eat off the ground. It is so spotless," Cohen told reporters. "We took actions immediately to respond once we heard there was a problem, and have been responsible from the beginning."

State inspectors went back for a visit on Wednesday to swab the plant and take food samples to be tested for salmonella and other pathogens as part of the pistachio recall, said Jessica Chittenden, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets. The test results are pending.

"Right now nothing is moving out of that plant. They're holding all products with pistachios in them," Chittenden said. "When we were in there yesterday to collect samples, they were cooperative, and we observed that they are working on the issues that we had outlined in our last inspection."

Chittenden said she was told federal inspectors also had visited the plant this week. The FDA said the agency was "investigating all aspects of the company's operations" but could not disclose details.

The two companies share a CEO and label foods with both plants' names, FDA spokesman Mike Herndon said.

During a tour of the factory on Thursday, a company consultant confirmed that pistachios were being kept separate from other products.

So far, there have been no confirmed reports of illness linked to the recalled nuts.


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