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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

FDA – Salmonella Tennessee Identified in a Processed Food Ingredient

According to an FDA press release, the FDA is taking steps to protect the public following the early identification of Salmonella Tennessee in one company’s supply of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP). This is a common ingredient used most frequently as a flavor enhancer in many processed foods, including soups, sauces, chilis, stews, hot dogs, gravies, seasoned snack foods, dips and dressings.

In coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other federal agencies, and state health departments, FDA is closely monitoring and assessing the potential risks of illness from affected products.  “Our investigators were able to identify this problem before any illnesses occurred," said FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg. "While the investigation is continuing, the agency is supporting reasonable steps to continue to protect the public health.”

The manufacturer of the affected product is Basic Food Flavors Inc in Las Vegas, Nevada. Only HVP manufactured by Basic Food Flavors is involved in this recall. The FDA conducted an investigation at the facility after a customer of Basic Food Flavors reported finding Salmonella Tennessee in one production lot of HVP to the new FDA Reportable Food Registry.

FDA collected and analyzed samples at the facility and confirmed the presence of Salmonella Tennessee in the company’s processing equipment. The company is recalling all hydrolyzed vegetable protein in powder and paste form that it has produced since Sept. 17, 2009.

“This situation clearly underscores the need for new food safety legislation to equip FDA with the tools we need to prevent contamination," said Dr. Jeff Farrar, associate commissioner for food protection, FDA’s Office of Foods.

At this time, there are no known illnesses associated with this contamination.  At this time, FDA is taking several steps to instruct industry and protect consumers from potential Salmonella infection.  FDA is advising industry that the recalled bulk HVP product should be destroyed or reconditioned according to FDA-approved procedures. FDA is also recommending recalls of certain products that might be eaten by consumers without any processing or cooking steps to address the potential risk.

As I said to CIDRAP this afternoon:

"It’s such a ubiquitous product," food-safety attorney Bill Marler said in an interview. "It underscores how a potentially contaminated ingredient can have such an enormous impact upstream and downstream, on re-manufacturers and retailers." Marler’s law firm, Marler Clark LLP, has been contacted by consumers complaining of diarrheal illness as recall notices trickled out over the past few days, and the firm plans to have tests conducted on products that remained on people’s shelves, he said.

  • Sandra

    Bill, is there something Im missing here? How can FDA say they identified the problem before any illnesses occurred? These products were distributed and sold to consumers. We received a notice from our Fred Meyer store that we purchased one of the products and in fact, I was ill, but because the product was already eaten and the package tossed there is no way to know if it was from the product. I think it would have been more appropriate for the FDA Commissioner, who seems out of touch, to say they do not know if there are illnesses associated with the recalled products. On top of that, my guess is we will see many more products being recalled as time goes on from this, its still in the early stages the best I can tell.

  • Marymary

    FDA should have said that there were no known or confirmed illnesses associated with the consumption of the product. Since the product was produced last fall and likely went into hundreds, perhaps thousands of foods, there is no way of confirming that there were no illnesses.
    One good thing, however, is that many of the products HVP was used in would have been cooked as part of their processing, presumably killing the Salmonella Tennessee. One bad thing, however, is that HVP is used in some products that may not be further cooked by either the processor or the consumer.

  • FDA is always providing some good opportunities to help people.