The contamination was only detected because of voluntary testing by a manufacturer for Kraft Foods Inc. almost two weeks ago. Private auditors hired by Kraft later found problems they think caused the contamination at a supplier's processing facility in central California.
If Kraft had not tested its product, 2 million pounds of pistachios that touched off government warnings and a scare this week probably would still be on the market. Neither the Food and Drug Administration nor state laws require food manufacturers to test the safety of their products.
"We're relying on companies to find the contaminated foods on their own, and since there's no national standards for this, some companies don't bother to test at all," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., a critic of the nation's food safety system. "What if these nuts had been distributed by a company that doesn't test? We wouldn't have found out until people got sick."
DeGette and numerous other lawmakers want the FDA to monitor testing in all segments of the processed food industry, and for companies to be required to release test results.
Federal health officials warned people this week to avoid eating all pistachios and products containing them while they determine which products may be tainted. The nuts Kraft manufacturer Georgia Nut Co. tested on March 20 came from Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., the second-largest pistachio processor in the nation.