Pistachios had been found to have salmonella three times in recent months before recall, Kraft says

Kraft Foods had been bedeviled with positive salmonella tests in products containing pistachios for months prior to its recall last week of a pistachio-laden trail mix, the company said Friday.

Shortly after pistachios bound for its Back to Nature trail mix tested positive for salmonella, Kraft voluntarily recalled the product and informed the Food and Drug Administration. Earlier this week, regulators urged consumers to avoid eating pistachio-based products, the latest in a series of salmonella scares.

The FDA also said that Kraft's pistachio supplier, California-based Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., the nation's second-largest pistachio processor, was voluntarily recalling its 2008 crop. A batch of Setton's pistachios had tested positive for salmonella at Skokie-based Georgia Nut Co., which makes Back to Nature trail mix for Northfield-based Kraft.

That wasn't the first time Georgia Nut had discovered a positive salmonella test in conjunction with Back to Nature mix. In September, November and February, trail mix containing pistachios tested positive for salmonella, said Laurie Guzzinati, a Kraft spokeswoman.

Kraft recovered the potentially tainted trail mix before it got onto grocery store shelves, so no recall was warranted, she said. In March, another positive salmonella test cropped up in a Back to Nature product that's not yet available in stores, Guzzinati said.

Georgia Nut and Kraft weren't able to determine what caused the positive salmonella readings. The Back to Nature products contained several ingredients, but pistachios—supplied by Setton—were a common ingredient, Guzzinati said.

Setton officials couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

After the fourth positive salmonella test in a finished Back to Nature product, Georgia Nut examined 78 boxes of roasted Setton pistachios in inventory, and two tested positive for salmonella, Guzzinati said.

At that point, Kraft and Georgia Nut said they notified the FDA, and Kraft said it sent its auditors to Setton's California operation. On March 25, after finishing its audit, Kraft initiated a voluntary recall.

Kraft auditors found instances where raw and roasted pistachios weren't adequately segregated. Roasting kills salmonella bacteria.