FDA says food company shipped products despite Salmonella findings

Mar 10, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – Federal inspectors concluded that a food company that produced hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) at the center of a series of food recalls continued to ship its products after it learned of Salmonella contamination in its processing facility, the FDA said yesterday.

The FDA said the company, Basic Food Flavors Inc., Las Vegas, continued to distribute its HVP paste and powder until Feb 15, despite the fact that its private lab found Salmonella in environmental samples collected at the plant on three different occasions, twice in January and once in early February.

The FDA said its inspection also exposed several problems with the company's building and its manufacturing procedures.

In a statement accompanying its inspection report, the FDA said the firm filed a report through the FDA's new Reportable Food Registry after one of its customers found Salmonella in the company's HVP, prompting an FDA investigation that began on Feb 12 and found Salmonella Tennessee on processing equipment. After discussions with the FDA, the company on Feb 26 announced that it was recalling all HVP it had produced since Sep 17.

According to the inspection report, called form 483, on Feb 19 the company's private lab reported finding Salmonella in a finished lot of product.

HVP is a flavor booster made from legumes that is used as an ingredient in other food products, and the Basic Food Flavors recall has sparked more than 100 product recalls, ranging from soups to potato chips to ready-to-eat beef taquitos. Though no illnesses have been linked to the potentially contaminated products, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is watching for any potentially related illnesses in its Salmonella surveillance system.

Basic Food Flavors failed to clean and sanitize utensils and equipment enough to prevent contamination of surfaces that came into contact with food, the FDA investigation found. For example, inspectors found residue on a hinge of a paste mixer and on and around a stainless steel filter screen.

Structural problems within the plant were also troubling, the report noted. Cracks and crevices in the floors of some of the production rooms made it difficult to keep the areas clean. The company's environmental sampling yielded Salmonella from and near these same floor areas. Inspectors observed standing water in trench drains alongside some of the production equipment, with adjacent employee and forklift traffic.

Improperly installed and maintained plumbing also hampered floor drainage, and the FDA's inspectors noted standing odorous, gray-black liquid in a drain that collected water from the trench drains while the company was processing HVP paste into powder. Environmental samples from and near the same drain areas were also positive for Salmonella.

The FDA said it is reviewing the findings to determine the appropriate regulatory response.

As of Mar 8, the FDA's HVP product recall database included 101 products. Since then, Proctor and Gamble has recalled two flavors of its Pringles potato chips, GNS Foods has recalled snack mixes containing honey-mustard pretzels, Herr Foods Inc. has recalled black pepper and sea-salt potato chips, and Nutritional Resources has recalled its cream of mushroom soup, according to notices posted on the FDA's Web site.

According to notices on the US Department of Agriculture Web site, Nestle recently recalled a ready-to-eat bacon base product, Ruiz Foods recalled its frozen beef and cheese tortilla snacks, and Windsor Foods recalled beef taquito and chicken quesadilla products.

See also:

FDA inspection report

Mar 9 FDA statement

FDA recall page

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recall page

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