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Large-scale recall looms due to salmonella-tainted flavor enhancer

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 05-Mar-2010

A large-scale product recall is likely following discovery of salmonella in hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), a flavor enhancer ubiquitous in processed foods, the FDA has said.

The recall affects HVP from Basic Food Flavors’ Las Vegas, Nevada manufacturing facility, where Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors found salmonella in the company’s processing equipment. There have been no illnesses reported as a result of the contamination, and the FDA has said that risk of illness is low because most of the foods containing the HVP would be cooked after the ingredient was added, destroying salmonella.

So far, 56 products containing the ingredient have been recalled but HVP is used in thousands of food products, including soups, sauces, frozen dinners, cheese, hotdogs, dips and seasoned snacks.

In a conference call with reporters, associate commissioner for food protection at the FDA Jeffrey Farrar said that due to the complexity of the supply chain, the agency could not be sure of how many products would ultimately be affected, but that the recall could potentially be very large.

He said: “The manufacturer had many first level consignees who obviously had individuals and firms who they sold to who sold to other firms. We expect this to get larger over the next several days to actually maybe several weeks.”

Farrar added: “Our approach to this…is a risk-based approach. We are not asking firms to recall product that may have been produced with this HVP product if it received a validated kill step.”

The FDA was alerted to the contamination through its new online Reportable Food Registry, when a customer of Basic Food Flavors found salmonella in one production lot of HVP. Basic Food Flavors is recalling all HVP in powder and paste form that it has produced since September 17, 2009. It has made available a list of affected products and lot numbers here .

The FDA’s recommendation to industry is to destroy or recondition all recalled HVP according to its approved procedures.

Food safety legislation

The recall has also prompted further calls for the Senate to move forward with proposed food safety legislation that has stalled as debate on health care and jobs has topped the political agenda. The Food Safety Modernization Act is currently 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.

FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said: "The FDA identified this before any major outbreak and I think that is very good news…I do want to take this opportunity to underscore how important it is to support passage of strong food safety legislation which would give us the tools to focus on prevention.”

Food safety attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest Sarah Klein said: “The Senate must act now to pass the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, so that the agency can help prevent contamination in the first place, rather than chase down tainted products long after they've left the manufacturer.”

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