Traceback investigation of a 2000 to 2001 outbreak of salmonellosis associated with consumption of raw almonds led to isolation of the outbreak strain Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis phage type (PT) 30 on three geographically linked almond farms. Interviews with these growers revealed that significant rain fell during the 2000 harvest when many almonds were drying on the ground. The objectives of this study were to document weather conditions during the 2000 harvest, determine the potential for growth of Salmonella Enteritidis PT 30 in hull or shell slurries, and evaluate survival of Salmonella Enteritidis PT 30 on wet almond hulls during drying. Dry almond hulls and in-shell kernels wetted for 24 h increased in weight by 250 to 300% and 100%, respectively. Both hull and shell slurries supported rapid growth of Salmonella Enteritidis PT 30 at 24°C; slurries containing hulls also supported growth at 15°C. Maximum Salmonella Enteritidis PT 30 concentrations of 6.2 and 7.8 log CFU/ml were observed at 15 and 24°C, respectively. Salmonella Enteritidis PT 30 grown in wet hulls that were incubated at 24°C survived drying at either 15 or 37°C. Reductions of 1 to 3 log CFU/g of dry hull were observed during drying; reductions generally declined as incubation time increased from 2 to 7 days. Evaluation of shipping records revealed that approximately 60% of outbreak-associated almonds had not been exposed to rain, eliminating this factor as the sole cause of the outbreak. However, the data provide evidence that wet almonds may be a greater risk for high concentrations of Salmonella, and specific guidelines should be established for harvesting and processing almonds that have been exposed to rain or other water sources.

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