Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors issued a report March 4, 2010, stating that Basic Food Flavors, Inc., the Las Vegas-based company at the center of a massive and growing food recall, “continued to distribute HVP [hydrolyzed vegetable protein] paste and powder products” for nearly a month after receiving the first lab results “indicating the presence of Salmonella in your facility.” While no illness has apparently yet been attributed to the HVP, it is used in dozens of products. As of March 11, FDA had identified some 150 products containing HVP, including bouillon, dressing and dressing mixes, frozen foods, ready-to-eat meals, sauces and marinades, snacks and snack mixes, soups, soup mixes and dip mix products, and stuffings.

According to some quality management specialists, this outbreak could be particularly challenging because HVP is considered a generic commodity; it can be purchased from many different suppliers, stored without an effective tracking system for particular sources or batches and is generally not listed on food products as an ingredient. While FDA has reportedly indicated that the chances of any consumers getting sick are low because the affected foods are usually cooked before packaging, salmonella infection can be fatal for young children and those with weakened immune systems. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has apparently recalled 1.7 million pound of ready-to-eat beef taquito and chicken quesadilla products containing HVP.

Food writer and activist Marion Nestle only recently turned her attention to the recall, “because the FDA seems on the job and nobody is getting sick (as far as we know),” but changed her mind, saying it “looks like another food safety scandal,” because HVP is in everything, the company knew it had a salmonella problem, and it took six days for FDA to convince Basic Food Flavors to issue a recall. Nestle said, “Do we need more evidence that the FDA needs the authority to order recalls? And when is Congress going to get around to passing the food safety bill? . . . Undoubtedly, this situation is frustrating for the FDA. But it is downright dangerous to us. It’s time to scream at Congress to act.”

One news source indicates that FDA found out about the contamination through its new reportable food registry, which allows companies to report suspected contamination. One of Basic Food Flavors’ customers apparently made the initial report that prompted FDA’s investigation, which found unsanitary conditions, plant construction that does not “allow floors to be adequately cleaned and kept clean and kept in good repair” and inadequate plumbing. See The Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2010; and USA Today, The Washington Post, Food Politics.com, MSNBC.com, March 10, 2010.