Food recall could become largest ever: FDA

Posted on Mar 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

By Sarah Schmidt , Canwest News ServiceMarch 9, 2010 10:35 AMComments (5)

 

A batch of the flavour enhancer hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) was found last month to be contaminated with salmonella, shown here in a microscopic close-upPhotograph by: Reuters/Janice Haney Carr/CDC/Handout, Reuters/Janice Haney Carr/CDC/HandoutOTTAWA — It could take months for some food companies to figure out whether a popular flavouring ingredient contaminated with salmonella found its way into their products, industry experts say.

In the past five days, a batch of the flavour enhancer hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) that was found last month to be contaminated with salmonella has already resulted in the recall of 94 items in the U.S. and more than a dozen in Canada.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned people on Monday not to consume Quaker Crispy Minis rice cakes in tomato and basil, Family’s Best smokey bacon potato chips, Compliments onion soup mix, two No Name brands of soup mix — onion recipe and cream of leek and several types of Hawaiian chips.

And the CFIA warns there will be more. The Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. says the contaminated HVP, manufactured by Nevada company Basic Food Flavors Inc., could balloon into one of the largest-ever food recalls in North America.

The ingredient, often mixed in with other spices, is added to thousands of processed foods, including chips, dips, salad dressings, sauces, hotdogs, soups and frozen dinners. And if HVP is part of a flavour mix, it may not be listed as an ingredient on a food package.

To date, there have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of the recalled products, U.S. and Canadian authorities said. The risk is considered “very low” for processed foods that are cooked, but higher for uncooked, ready-to-eat foods like chips and dip, they said.

In Canada, consumers could be exposed to the contaminated batch through imported pre-packaged foods or items manufactured north of the border using the ingredient.

Chemroy Canada Inc., which distributes Basic Food Flavors ingredients across the country, declined Monday to say how many local clients purchase HVP from them, saying the information is proprietary.

Derek Nighbor, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs at the Food and Consumer Products of Canada, said Canadian food manufacturers work with some of the most stringent safety regulations in the world, and “are working quickly to ensure any contaminated products are removed from the marketplace.”

But industry experts say a weak tracking system across the North American supply chain for such a common ingredient means consumers can expect some of the recalls to trickle out over an extended period.

“You’re dealing with a byproduct, so if companies are not recalling their product, it’s because they probably don’t have an answer and they don’t know. Why? Because most companies do have a food traceability system, but it’s not transversal, meaning that their system doesn’t necessarily communicate efficiently with the systems of suppliers or customers or clients,” said Sylvain Charlebois, University of Regina business professor and author of the new book Not On My Plate: managing risk and fear.

“To trace and track back the threats or possible problems is challenging for anyone in the food industry right now. We haven’t tried to fully implement an integrated food traceability system that is efficient to protect the interest of consumers, and it’s not only in Canada. It’s across the board.”

Michael Armstrong, a quality management specialist at Brock University’s faculty of business, has studied the growing complexity of food recalls.

He said this case is particularly challenging because the raw material is likely considered a generic commodity. This means a food manufacturer might buy HVP from many different suppliers over time, wherever it is cheapest, and store it all together without establishing an efficient trace-back system to a particular source or batch.

“It’s the kind of ingredient that’s the hardest to trace,” said Mr. Armstrong.

Charlebois said this dynamic – in a global ingredients market which is expected to exceed $34 billion US this year — means food recalls are no longer one-day affairs.

“You’re going to deal with more of these recalls and these recalls will have to be managed over an extended period of time — weeks, months perhaps.”

For example, when the Peanut Company of America recalled peanuts and peanut paste last year, the last snack bar removed from the Canadian market occurred 10 months after the initial revelation of salmonella contamination.

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