Impossible Foods issues voluntary recall as it gears up for launch at 570 Red Robin locations

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Red Robin is adding the Impossible Cheeseburger to the menu at all 570 locations across the US
Red Robin is adding the Impossible Cheeseburger to the menu at all 570 locations across the US

Related tags Impossible Foods plant-based meat

Plant-based meat start-up Impossible Foods has issued a voluntary recall of a single lot number of its product after a restaurant in California discovered a “food-safe, sealed, one-inch plastic object in a case of Impossible Burger bulk product.”

The firm - which is gearing up for a major launch at gourmet burger chain Red Robin next week - said the affected product was not served to consumers.

The FDA is not mandating any action or recall, added the company, which informed distributors and operators on March 21 that it was implementing a “precautionary product recovery of one single lot number, OAK190500001, produced on Feb. 19, 2019, with an expiration date of June 19, 2019.”

In a statement to reporters, the company said it “took action immediately” ​after learning about the plastic object, adding that, “Out of an abundance of caution, Impossible Foods is recovering all the product from the one affected lot.”

‘We believe there is little to no risk for consumers or operators’

The company did not say whether an internal investigation had identified the likely source of the plastic object and determined how – and at what point in the supply chain - it may have got into the product.

However, “based on a safety assessment​,” it added, “We believe there is little to no risk for consumers or operators.

“We are also taking preventative measures to ensure the safety of our product and the operations of our food manufacturing plant,” ​added the company, which has asked partners to throw away product with the lot number in question, and is offering compensation.

The Impossible Burger is now on the menu at Red Robin

The recall was announced shortly before Red Robin revealed that the Impossible Cheeseburger will be added to the menu at all of its 570 locations across the US (diners will also have the option to substitute the Impossible patty for any other Red Robin burger on the menu).

While Impossible Foods has raised a significant amount of money for a food start-up (almost $400m in debt and equity), albeit one supported by a lot of IP, new president Dennis Woodside (who started work on March 18), told FoodNavigator-USA that he was confident it can generate the kind of returns that justify such a large investment.

"Think about the market opportunity,” ​he told us earlier this month​.​ “Our investors are smart and they are thinking long term, and there are very few companies that can say with a straight face, 'Every person on the planet is a potential customer.' A lot of tech companies with very big valuations can't say that. The market potential, if we are successful, is absolutely vast​​.”

Plant-based meat 2.0

The latest version​ of the Impossible Burger  - which is now available in 5,000+ locations including 377 White Castle outlets - is made primarily from soy protein concentrate. Its star ingredient, heme, an iron-containing molecule it claims “makes meat taste like meat,'​ is made using a genetically engineered yeast, the DNA of which has been retooled to produce leghemoglobin (a protein found in nodules attached to the roots of nitrogen-fixing plants such as soy).

Rival Beyond Meat​ - which has also upgraded its recipes this year, adding mung bean and rice protein to the mix - uses pea protein isolate as its core ingredient, and has gone through the Non-GMO Project Verified process​ for its US products, which are soy-free. 

While Impossible Foods' use of genetic engineering to make heme has generated conversations in the media, most consumers "are not aware of the science that goes into a product like the Impossible Burger,"​ claimed Dr Rachel Cheatham at consultancy FoodScape Group.

Speaking at FoodNavigator-USA's recent natural and clean label trends​ webinar, she said: "Do consumers understand the bioengineered yeast that’s used to make heme? They don’t. The question is to what extent will consumers say, well I’m not sure about that, but I really like the value proposition of what this brand stands for."

And the value proposition is clear, according to the company's recent impact report​, which notes that global demand for animal-derived food is surging, despite consumers' concerns about its environmental and animal welfare impact.

We’re not going to solve this problem by pleading with consumers to eat beans and tofu instead of meat and fish. We need to solve this problem another way — not by guilting consumers into changing their diets, but by making delicious, nutritious and sustainable meats that are better than the meats from inefficient, animal-based technology.​​​"

Impossible Foods landscape

At Impossible Foods, the key components of meat have been identified, characterized and sourced from plants such as soy and potatoes, and processed using high-moisture extrusion and other techniques in order to meet precise functional, taste and textural criteria.

Impossible Burger ingredients list​​​​​​​ (LATEST VERSION):​ Water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, natural flavors, 2% or less of: potato protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, food starch modified, soy leghemoglobin, salt, soy protein isolate, mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), zinc gluconate, thiamine hydrochloride (vitamin B1), sodium ascorbate (vitamin C), niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12.

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