Basic Food Flavors knew its hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) was contaminated with salmonella but continued to ship the product for a month before recalling it, according to an FDA report.
HVP is a commonly used flavor enhancer, found in a wide variety of foods, from chips and dips to savoury snacks, hotdogs, sauces and frozen dinners. More than 100 products containing the ingredient have been recalled so far, but due to a complex supply chain that number is expected to balloon over the coming weeks and months.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the recall of HVP on March 4, after its own tests had confirmed the presence of salmonella on equipment at Basic Food Flavors’ Las Vegas, Nevada plant in mid-February, and after the company agreed to issue a voluntary recall. The FDA does not have the authority to mandate product recalls.
According to company records, Basic Food Flavors learned that samples from its plant had tested positive for salmonella on January 21. The documents said that the company conducted tests, twice in January and once in February, finding salmonella on all three occasions, but did not issue a product recall or take any steps to minimize the risk of contamination.
The FDA was notified of a possible contamination at the facility in February through its online Reportable Food Registry, after a Basic Food Flavors customer found the pathogen in HVP by routine testing. The agency then carried out its own inspections, starting February 12, which also came back positive for salmonella.
An FDA report issued to the firm said: “After receiving the first private laboratory analytical results [dated January 21] indicating the presence of Salmonella in your facility, you continued to distribute HVP paste and powder products until 2/15/2010. Furthermore, from 1/21/2010 to 2/20/2010, you continued to manufacture HVP paste and powder products under the same processing conditions that did not minimize microbial contamination.”
It was only after February 20 that the FDA began discussions with Basic Food Flavors “regarding the firm's intentions to conduct a voluntary recall of the HVP the company had made, in both powder and paste form, manufactured on or after Sept. 17.”
The company began notifying its customers of a recall on February 26, and the FDA publicly announced the recall a week later.
Basic Food Flavors could not be reached for comment prior to publication.
No illnesses have been associated with the HVP recall at this stage, and the FDA has said that the risk is low, because most of the products containing the tainted ingredient undergo a kill step for salmonella – cooking at high temperature – before they reach the consumer. However, ready-to-eat products like seasoned snacks pose a greater risk.
The FDA does not currently have the authority to order companies to recall contaminated products. However, legislation that would give the agency that power passed the House in July. A companion bill, the Food Safety Modernization Act, is now awaiting a full Senate hearing after the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee gave the bill its unanimous approval more than three months ago.