Friday, March 19, 2010

HVP Recall Update

It's been more than two weeks since I first wrote about the recall of salmonella-contaminated hydrolyzed vegetable protein, so I figured it was about time for an update.

To begin with, it turns out that Basic Food Flavors was aware of the contamination and continued to ship product anyway. Sadly, this kind of criminal behavior from food producers is hardly even surprising anymore, considering how many high-profile cases we've seen in recent years. For two prominent examples, just look at the Peanut Corporation of America (which knowingly shipped Salmonella-tainted peanut products that ultimately led to hundreds of illnesses and nine deaths) and SK Foods (which intentionally falsified test results and other documents in order to sell tomatoes with illegal mold levels to producers of canned tomatoes, salsas, pasta sauces, and other products).

The recalled-product list gives a pretty good sense of just how wide-spread this ingredient is, and just how vulnerable our food supply is to negligence or criminal behavior at even a single facility, if that facility happens to make a common ingredient. The list currently includes 159 products from such familiar names as Trader Joe's, McCormick, Quaker and Pringles. As impressive as that is, this list doesn't necessarily include all of the products that contain contaminated HVP - the recall does not include products if their manufacturing processes or cooking instructions are deemed sufficient to kill off the Salmonella.

Despite this bleak picture, there's a bright side to all this. To begin with, nobody has gotten sick yet. Secondly, the whole investigation of Basic Food Flavors was initiated when one of their customers found Salmonella in the course of their own testing, and reported the results via the FDA's relatively new Reportable Foods Registry. It's nice when the systems we set up actually work!

Some other coverage from:
Food Politics, NPR, and the Food Liability Law Blog. I think this last one is particularly interesting, because it is written as a "what can we learn from this," but from an industry perspective. Consumers can obviously conclude that our country needs stronger preventative food safety enforcement (like that outlined in S. 510, currently awaiting a vote in the Senate...), but it's interesting to see what the industry thinks are the lessons from this whole mess (i.e. "have a crisis plan" and "make sure you have insurance")

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