Research – Growth and survival of foodborne pathogens during soaking and drying of almond (Prunus dulcis) kernels


The practice of soaking almonds prior to consumption is popular both commercially and at home. The food safety implications of soaking almonds was investigated through analysis of blogs and videos (n = 85 recipes) to identify both the reasons for soaking almonds and the common practices employed. Among the recipes analyzed, the most common reasons for soaking almonds (94.1%) were perceived benefits such as improved digestion and nutrient uptake. Most recipes (34.1%) suggested soaking at “room temperature” for times that ranged from 4 to 24 h or, more commonly, “overnight” (51.8%). Post-soaking drying instructions were provided in 40 recipes (47.1%). Among those providing a drying temperature (31.8%), 85% specified 66°C and lower. To evaluate the growth of foodborne pathogens during almond soaking, separate cocktails of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella enterica were inoculated onto raw almonds or into the soak water (almonds-to-water ratios of 1:1 and 1:3 [w/v]). Populations were monitored during soaking at 15, 18, and 23°C for up to 24 h, and during post-soak drying at 66°C for 14 h (for Salmonella only). At 15°C and a 1:1 almond:water ratio, no significant population increase (P > 0.05) was observed between 0 and 24 h for any of the pathogens. At 18°C, increases of 0.63, 1.70, and 0.88 log CFU/sample were observed over 24 h for populations of E. coli O157:H7, L. monocytogenes, and Salmonella, respectively. Populations of E. coli O157:H7, L. monocytogenes, and Salmonella increased by 3.48, 3.22, and 3.94 log CFU/sample, respectively, after 24 h at 23°C. When soaked almonds were dried for 14 h at 66°C, moisture and water activity decreased from 40% to ~6% and 0.99 to 0.60, respectively, but no significant reduction in Salmonella populations was observed. Recommendations for using shorter times (<8 h) and cooler temperatures (≤15°C) should reduce the potential for foodborne pathogens, if present, to grow during soaking of almonds.

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