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The Truth about "Raw" Dried Coconut

Dried or "desiccated" coconut is an established industry in the Philippines, with the largest companies being established back in the 1920s to handle the booming candy bar industry in the US. The Philippines produces most of the world's dried coconut products, and has had a reputation of producing a very high quality product for many years. The meat of the coconut is high in protein, and fresh coconuts have a very short shelf life, especially in the humid tropics. Contamination of coconut meat can easily result in salmonella poisoning. In a study published in Applied Microbiology in 1967 it was reported:

Raw, unprocessed coconut supports the growth of salmonellae as well as that of other enteric bacteria, salmonellae being particularly resistant to subsequent desiccation. Original contamination is not due to carriers or to polluted water supplies, but to contact with bacteria-containing soils followed by dispersion via infected coconut milk and shells. Pasteurization of raw coconut meat in a water bath at 80 C (176 F) for 8 to 10 min effectively killed such bacteria, did not injure the product, and provided a prophylactic method now widely used by the coconut industry. Appl Microbiol. 1967 May; 15(3): 471–475.

The US FDA also recognizes the fact that temperatures above 160 degrees F. are necessary to kill salmonella. Over the years, the FDA has issued warnings concerning raw coconut products that became contaminated and endangered people's health in the US. In 1991, for example, three cases of cholera were reported in Maryland and linked to raw coconut products that were not pasteurized. (FDA report here.)

Tropical Traditions dried coconut products, which presently include our coconut flakes, shredded coconut, coconut cream concentrate, and coconut flour, are all manufactured by well-established companies in the Philippines that have been producing dried coconut products for many years under industry standard operating procedures, and are also certified organic according to USDA standards. The dried coconut is heated to appropriate temperatures to insure no contamination occurs that is common to coconut products in the tropics.

We have become very concerned that there are some companies in the US claiming to sell "raw" dried coconut from the Philippines that has not been treated by heat. This is not the industry standard way of producing dried coconut in the Philippines, as is very well documented. When purchasing dried coconut products ask the vendor the following questions:

1. Was this dried coconut processed at industry standard temperatures to kill pathogens common in the tropics? 2. Is your dried coconut certified organic by a third party certification organization recognized by the USDA? (Ask to see a copy of their USDA NOP organic certificate.) 3. Do you retain a certificate of analysis tied into a batch number for the dried coconut that you sell? If so, what were the results of the microbiological analysis? (Note: E. coli and salmonella should be negative!)

The FDA has a document on their website entitled "Organisms That Can Bug You." Under the section Salmonellosis they list unpasteurized coconut as one of the at-risk foods. They write: "Onset: Generally 6-48 hours after eating. Nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headache. All age groups are susceptible, but symptoms are most severe for the elderly, the infirm, and infants." The FDA also maintains an "Import Alert" list of companies importing fresh, frozen, or dried coconut into the US that has been found to be contaminated.

Conclusion: Raw coconut is very healthy and is best consumed from fresh coconuts within 24-48 hours of harvest. For those of us living outside the tropics, dried coconut is the next best thing. However, be careful where you purchase your dried coconut and investigate thoroughly to be sure it was processed according to industry standards to avoid potential contamination.