As summer heats up and our cravings turn to soft-serve and Italian ice, we’ve never been more thankful that it’s not pecan pie season.
That’s because a South Carolina pecan processing plant, Orangeburg Pecan Company, Inc., has been cited by the FDA for being, well, generally disgusting in its treatment of those toasty, buttery nuts we know and love. In a warning letter made public last week, the government agency documents a laundry list of violations its officials have observed at the plant, including live cockroaches crawling on a wall near the toasting room, laboratory-confirmed rodent feces, dead insect parts on some of the processing equipment, and nuts soaking in a chlorine-based swimming pool chemical. The letter was addressed to Orangeburg’s president, one Frederick JD Felder.
“Our investigator documented that a chemical labeled ‘BioGuard maintain CLC3 swimming pool multi-purpose granular chlorine’ is used by your firm as a hand dip, as a pecan meat wash, and as an overnight soak of in-shell pecans prior to cracking,” Ingrid A. Zambrana, the Atlanta district-based FDA official who authored the letter, writes in the document. “There is a reasonable expectation that these uses will result in the chlorine compound migrating into your pecans.”
Any hippie worth her salt knows about the importance of soaking nuts prior to eating, a step that’s said to increase the snack’s bioavailable nutrients and inactivate some of the toxins known as phytates. But soaking them in pool chemicals? Uh, that might be a little too far.
Other violations observed by FDA inspectors, who most recently visited the plant last fall, included employees’ failure to wash their hands before handling shelled pecans; nut dryers crusted with “visible grime and pecan debris;” and “visibly dirty” nut-storage barrels that plant employees told the officials are only cleaned once a month.
“You must clean all food-contact surfaces, including your utensils and food-contact surfaces of equipment, as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food,” the letter warns.
Orangeburg Pecan Co., Inc. seems like a nice enough business. Founded in 1939, it’s a third-generation family operation founded by Marlon H. Felder, a local fruit farmer. Today, grandson Frederick, of the FDA’s letter, runs the joint, whose slogan is “Put some South in yo mouth.” MUNCHIES reached out to the plant, but a woman who answered the phone said that “Freddy” was not available to speak.
The warning letter, issued on May 17, gives the company 15 working days to respond, so we’re sure Freddy will be getting back to Ingrid soon.
In the meantime, we’ll just stick to cashews, thanks.