Salmonella fears spur growing food flavoring recall
The risk to consumers probably is low, but the recall could encompass a large number of products, Jeffrey Farrar, Food and Drug Administration associate commissioner for food protection, said in a briefing Thursday. “We do suspect the amount of products is going to increase over the next several days or weeks.”
An FDA statement says the affected products include soups, sauces, chilis, stews, hot dogs, gravies, seasoned snack foods, dips and dressings. The FDA has posted a list of recalled foods at foodsafety.gov.
The flavoring is hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or HVP, made by a small number of companies. The HVP involved in the recall was made by Basic Food Flavors of North Las Vegas, Nev.
“It’s widely used. It’s a fairly inexpensive flavor enhancer,” said Don Schaffner, a professor of microbiology and food safety expert at Rutgers University. He has been consulting with companies all week about how to deal with the recall.
The recall would be much wider were it not for the fact that many products containing HVP are cooked before being sold. Under FDA’s safety guidelines, companies that used the product but can document a valid “kill step” won’t need to recall their foods. Though Basic Food’s HVP was probably used in 10,000 products, many will be covered by the kill step, so “we don’t know what percentage … will be involved in the recall,” Farrar said.
Tests show that the HVP was contaminated with the salmonella tennessee bacteria, which can cause short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. It can cause sometimes-deadly infections, especially in children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems.
The recall covers foods manufactured since Sept. 17, 2009; no illnesses have been linked to the strain found in the products, Farrar said.
HVP, made from proteins in grains or soybeans, adds a meaty, savory taste to foods. It’s chemically similar to monosodium glutamate.
Earth Island, a Chatsworth, Calif., company that is recalling ranch dressing and vegetarian entrees, required letters of guarantee verifying that the HVP it was buying was safe as well as certificates of analysis showing that periodic biological testing of the product had been done, quality assurance manager Sheena Bliss said.
The recall is a huge expense for her company. “Even though we did everything that we could to make our products as safe as possible, obviously the supplier wasn’t,” she said.
Calls to Basic Food for comment were not immediately returned.