On February 25th, Basic Food Flavors (North Las Vegas, NV) recalled every batch of hydrolyzed vegetable protein ("HVP") powder and paste that it had produced since September 17, 2009.
The ingredient recall was triggered after an unidentified customer of Basic Food Flavors found Salmonella Tennessee in a sample of HVP and reported the finding using FDA's new Reportable Food Registry. FDA and Nevada health authorities inspected the Basic Food Flavors production facility and confirmed the presence of Salmonella Tennessee in the company's processing equipment.
The strain of Salmonella Tennessee found in the production equipment and in the HVP sample has not been associated with any known illnesses either in the United States or in Canada.
HVP, also known as hydrolyzed soy protein, is a common ingredient in a wide range of processed foods – chips and dips, soups and salads, pretzels, pastas and a pot pourri of other products. At least 94 individual food items already have been recalled as a result of the Salmonella Tennessee contamination. And there are more – potentially, a lot more – recalls to come, as FDA traces the distribution of the HVP.
In addition to supplying US food processors, Basic Food Flavors also sells its HVP in Canada (through Chemroy Canada Inc.), as well as in Mexico, South America, Europe and Asia through Flavor Consultants. Both FDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have published guidance to food processors to help them evaluate whether or not they need to recall their finished products.
One possible group of affected products that has not yet been mentioned is dry pet food. There have been a flurry of recent reports on ConsumerAffairs.com about pets becoming ill after eating Nutro products. I have been contacted by a reader who reports that her two sick cats ate Nutro Max cat food before becoming ill.
This latest ingredient recall is yet another reminder that inadequate attention to microbiological safety programs on the part of just one ingredient supplier can trigger a series of recalls that spread, tsunami-like, across major sectors of the food manufacturing, distribution and retailing industries.
According to the company's website, Basic Food Flavors has an operating HACCP plan. The sole focus of the plan is to eliminate a chemical hazard (known as 3-MCPD) through pH and temperature control during hydrolysis of the soy protein. The process flow diagram for HVP lists the following control elements: pH, salt, color, refractive index, flavor & taste, foreign materials and temperature. Neither the HACCP plan summary nor the process flow diagram mention microbiological testing.
It's a truism that one cannot ensure the microbiological safety of a food through finished product testing. But it's equally true that an effective and comprehensive microbiological safety program – one that incorporates environmental and equipment sampling, raw material sampling and "test and hold" finished product sampling programs – can go a long way to avoiding expensive, wasteful and potentially hazardous ingredient recall situations. If I were a food processor, I certainly would choose to deal with ingredient suppliers who had such a comprehensive program in place!
FDA has posted a searchable database of HVP-related recalls. To assist consumers in North America and elsewhere, I shall be posting (within the next 24 hours) a separate listing of recalled foods – sorted by brand name – along with information on where the foods were sold. The list will be updated as additional recall information becomes available.
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