Research – A Quantitative Risk Assessment of Human Salmonellosis from Consumption of Walnuts in the United States

Journal of Food Protection

We assessed the risk of human salmonellosis from consumption of shelled walnuts in the United States and the impact of 0- to 5-log reduction treatments for Salmonella during processing. We established a baseline model with Salmonella contamination data from 2010 to 2013 surveys of walnuts from California operations to estimate baseline prevalence and levels of Salmonella during preshelling storage and typical walnut processing stages, considered U.S. consumption data, and applied an adapted dose-response model from the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization to evaluate risk of illness per serving and per year. Our baseline model predicted 1 case of salmonellosis per 100 million servings (95% confidence interval [CI], 1 case per 3 million to 1 case per 2 billion servings) of walnuts untreated during processing and uncooked by consumers, resulting in an estimated 6 cases of salmonellosis per year (95% CI, <1 to 278 cases) in the United States. A minimum 3-log reduction treatment for Salmonella during processing of walnuts eaten alone or as an uncooked ingredient resulted in a mean risk of <1 case per year. We modeled the impact on risk per serving of three atypical situations in which the Salmonella levels were increased by 0.5 to 1.5 log CFU per unit pretreatment during processing at the float tank or during preshelling storage or posttreatment during partitioning into consumer packages. No change in risk was associated with the small increase in levels of Salmonella at the float tank, whereas an increase in risk was estimated for each of the other two atypical events. In a fourth scenario, we estimated the risk per serving associated with consumption of walnuts with Salmonella prevalence and levels from a 2014 to 2015 U.S. retail survey. Risk per serving estimates were two orders of magnitude larger than those of the baseline model without treatment. Further research is needed to determine whether this finding reflects variability in Salmonella contamination across the supply or a rare event affecting a portion of the supply.

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