Recalls due to Salmonella risk in flavoring approach 100

Mar 8, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – The number of product recalls linked to a food ingredient that may be contaminated with Salmonella Tennessee has grown to 94, according to the most recent update from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The list of items containing potentially contaminated hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) from Basic Food Flavors, a Las Vegas company, has expanded beyond the initial 56 products described by the FDA on Mar 4 to include certain bouillon, prepared salad, gravy, and pretzel products.

HVP is a flavor booster made from legumes that is an ingredient in an array of different food products. Basic Food Flavors recalled all of the HVP it had made since Sep 17, 2009, after one of its customers found Salmonella in an HVP batch, which prompted an FDA inspection that found the contaminant on the company's processing equipment.

No illnesses have been linked to the product, but federal officials said at a Mar 4 press briefing that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was reviewing reports entering its Salmonella surveillance system for any signal of increased illness. Federal officials have said they believe the risk of contamination is low, because of the small amounts of HVP used in the products and because many of them underwent a "kill step" such as heating that would have killed the bacteria.

Federal officials said the ingredient-driven recall shows the complexity of the nation's food production and distribution system, and they said they expected the number of recalled products containing HVP to grow quickly.

Craig Hedberg, PhD, a foodborne disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told CIDRAP News that the HVP recall isn't the first time a dried food ingredient has been linked to Salmonella contamination. For example, he said Salmonella has been detected in infant formula, peanuts, cereal, and crackers.

In 2007, a multistate Salmonella Wandsworth outbreak that sickened about 65 people from 20 states was linked to Veggie Booty snack crackers. The company said its independent testing suggested that vegetable seasoning used to produce the snack was the likely source of the Salmonella.

Hedberg said a host of food ingredients, including HVP, are susceptible to environmental contamination in the processing environment. The episode serves as another reminder that Salmonella can survive in dry products, which may require a higher level of scrutiny, Hedberg added. He said the recent Salmonella illnesses that appear to be linked to contaminated red and black pepper in salami and sausage products are another example of contamination in dry food ingredients. The spate of contamination findings and product recalls over the past few years may renew calls for the irradiation of some food ingredients.

Like the HVP recall so far, the 2009 product recall triggered by Salmonella in pistachios reached far in wide despite an absence of specific illness reports. Multiple samples of pistachios and pistachio-containing products from California-based Setton Pistachio tested positive for several Salmonella serotypes, including Montevideo, Newport, and Seftenberg. Though some of the DNA fingerprints matched Salmonella strains in the CDC's PulseNet database, the number of infections didn't exceed the national baseline.

Hedberg noted that during an S Tennessee outbreak linked to peanut butter in 2006 and 2007, about a third of the cases were urinary tract infections in women.

See also:

Mar 4 CIDRAP News story "Salmonella risk in flavoring may drive host of food recalls"

FDA HVP recall page

CDC background information on Salmonella in pistachios

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