March 4, 2010; Updated March 24, 2010
Consumer Questions and Answers:
Recall of Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP) Manufactured By Basic Food Flavors, Inc.
[Added March 24, 2010] What is being recalled?
All the hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) made in powder and paste form by one manufacturer, Basic Food Flavors Inc. on or after Sept. 17, 2009, is being recalled. The product is being recalled because of the potential to be contaminated by Salmonella Tennessee, a bacterium that can make you sick. The company also has agreed not to distribute any of these products and to stop making them while an investigation by FDA and other federal and state agencies continues.
Some foods that used Basic Food Flavor's HVP as an ingredient during this time also are being recalled if they were not cooked during processing or will not be cooked by consumers; for example, some snack chips and some powdered dip mixes.
[Updated March 24, 2010] What is hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)?
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is a flavor enhancer added to many processed foods such as soups, sauces and seasonings. (Processed foods are foods that aren't sold raw; they're processed in some way by food-processing companies – for example, by combining ingredients and adding them to other products, which may be cooked.)
[Added March 24, 2010] Is HVP added to all processed foods?
No. Many processed foods do not contain HVP.
[Added March 24, 2010] Is HVP the same as HPP?
Yes. Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein and Hydrolyzed Plant Protein have the same meaning. Vegetables are plants.
[Added March 24, 2010] Where does HVP come from and how is it made?
HVP is derived from plants like corn, soy, and wheat. It is made by boiling these plants in an acid solution, then neutralizing it with an alkaline to change the proteins into its basic components. This produces a dark, colored liquid that is concentrated to a paste or dried to a powder. Some food processors add these pastes or powders to other foods to give them a richer flavor.
Basic Food Flavors reported no use of imported products to make its HVP.
[Updated March 24, 2010] What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and/or fever in anyone, and more serious illness in people with weak immune systems (such as infants, the elderly, people with AIDS, and people who are on chemotherapy or who take some kinds of medications for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis). Most people who become infected with Salmonella recover without treatment within a week or less, but people with weakened immune systems might not. In these people, the illness can be extremely serious or even fatal.
[Added March 24, 2010] Has anyone become sick from the recalled food?
To date, no illnesses have been reported, even though these products had been sold and used since September 2009. Because there have been no reports of illnesses to date, this situation is not considered a "foodborne outbreak." It is considered to be a recall of a contaminated product that the FDA and other federal and state agencies are closely monitoring. These agencies are working together to prevent harm to the public from the contamination by making sure that foods that contained this product from Basic Food Flavors are removed from the food supply if they did not have a food processing step that would kill Salmonella or instructions to consumers to further cook the product,.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is on the alert for reports of illnesses that could be connected to contaminated HVP and is in close contact with the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and state health departments.
[Added March 24, 2010] How can I find out the names of the foods that are being recalled?
The FDA is posting the names of recalled foods in a database that you can search online, at http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/MajorProductRecalls/HVP/default.htm, to find out if a product you've bought or are thinking about buying is being recalled. The FDA is constantly updating the database as new information comes in from companies that are notifying the FDA if they are recalling their products.
[Updated March 24, 2010] What is FDA's advice to consumers during this recall?
The FDA is recommending that consumers:
- check www.FoodSafety.gov for a list of recalled products;
- remember to follow all instructions for food preparation and cooking; and
- report symptoms of Salmonella infection or other food-related illness to your health care professional.
[Updated March 24, 2010] How can I find out if a food I've bought or want to buy has HVP in it?
Instead of trying to check food labels to see if a food has HVP in it, it's better to go to the list of recalled products on FDA's Web site to find out if a company has announced a recall. You can also call the company that makes the food or check the company's Web site to see if the company has announced a recall because many products containing HVP are not associated with these recalls.
Although FDA generally encourages consumers to check food labels, these are better ways to identify the recalled products than checking food labels, in this particular situation, because many products that contain HVP aren't being recalled for the reasons described above. Also, HVP can be listed in different ways on food labels, depending on what ingredients were used to make the HVP.
[Added March 24, 2010] What should I do if I bought a food that has been recalled?
Don't open or use the product. Check the company's Web site or call the company to find out if it offers a refund and follow the company's instructions. If the company doesn't give you any instructions, throw the product away in a manner that won't allow people or pets to find it and eat it or return it to the place of purchase for a refund.
[Added March 24, 2010] Why are foods other than HVP from Basic Food Flavors being recalled, too?
Basic Food Flavors sells its HVP to food-processing companies, which use it as an ingredient in other foods. For example, HVP is used as a flavor enhancer in some soups, sauces, chilies, stews, hot dogs, meats, poultry, gravies, powdered dip mixes, salad dressings, and snack foods like potato chips and pretzels, to name a few. It's also included in some spice blends and seasoning packets.
These other foods are sold under other brand names, not under the name "Basic Food Flavors Inc." Basic Food Flavors has notified the companies that bought the HVP made on or after Sept.17, 2009, about the contamination. Those companies and companies that purchased from those companies are recalling products that may pose a health risk to consumers.
[Added March 24, 2010] Are all foods that contain HVP being recalled?
No, just products that used HVP made by Basic Food Flavors on or after Sept. 17, 2009 that do not have a food processing step (called a 'kill step') that would kill Salmonella or require further cooking by the consumer, are being recalled
[Added March 24, 2010] Is there a risk that I could become sick from eating a food that contained the contaminated HVP?
The risk of becoming sick from the contaminated HVP is very low in most cases. The risk may be somewhat higher in other cases. This is explained below.
A: Most processed foods contain very little HVP, and most food-processing companies include processing steps that would kill any Salmonella present when making their products, such as heating to a high temperature or for a long period of time. These foods aren't included in the recall, as they are not considered to present a risk.
B: Some "Ready-to-cook" foods: Foods that you have to bake or cook according to the instructions on the package – boxes or pouches of rice dishes or frozen dinners are just a few examples – are low risk. But they're low risk only if you follow the cooking instructions as written. The directions are meant to get the foods hot enough, for long enough, to kill bacteria like Salmonella.
C: Some "Ready-to-eat" foods – processed foods you don't cook or bake, like some snack chips and some powdered products used to make dips or salad dressings – could pose a higher risk if they were made without a kill step.Companies that used the HVP from Basic Food Flavors in their ready-to-eat products and didn't use a kill step are recalling these products, although even with these products the risk is low. However, these products should not be eaten.
If you have one of the ready-to-eat foods that won't be cooked, like snack chips or dips made with seasonings containing the recalled HVP, you should check www.FoodSafety.gov to see if the product has been recalled. You could also call the company that made the food or check the company's Web site to find out if a kill step was used or if they are recalling the product. The company may not have used the recalled HVP, so their product may not be affected. Or, the company might not yet have sent FDA a notice that the food is being recalled; if so, the food won't yet appear in the online list of recalled foods posted on the FDA Web site. (See below).
[Added March 24, 2010] What should I do if I ate one of the recalled products?
To date there have been no reports of illness from any of the recalled products, even though the HVP has been in distribution for more than six months. These products present a low risk. However, you should watch for signs of infection, including the symptoms listed above: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, or fever. Call your health care professional right away if you develop any of these symptoms. If you have a weak immune system because of one of the reasons listed above or for any other reason, it's especially important for you to get medical help right away if you have these symptoms.
Reporting your illness to your health care professional also helps CDC determine if an outbreak of illness is starting.
[Added March 24, 2010] I recently heard that some foods containing black pepper and red pepper were being recalled because of Salmonella. Is that recall related to the HVP recall?
No. The types of Salmonella are different for the recalls of peppers and for HVP. Different types of Salmonella can be distinguished by various laboratory tests, including DNA fingerprinting; these tests can help health officials to find out if an outbreak caused by contaminated food has started and to track down the source. The type isolated from pepper has been associated with reports of consumer illness, whereas the specific type isolated from HVP has not.
[Added March 24, 2010] Can I contact FDA if I think a food is contaminated and I want to report it?
Yes. If you think a food has made you sick, you can report it to local health agencies, as well as to FDA.
[Added March 24, 2010] How will I know when the recall is over and there's no longer any risk from the contaminated HVP?
Please check the FDA's Web site often. FDA is actively monitoring the recall to ensure that products that should be removed from the market place are being recalled. New information is added as it arrives.
[Added March 24, 2010] Where can I learn more about food safety?
For more information about food safety, visit the federal government's food-safety Web site for consumers, www.FoodSafety.gov/index.html, or the section of the FDA Web site that contains food-safety information for consumers, at http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/default.htm.
[Added March 24, 2010] How did FDA find out about the contamination?
In September, 2009, FDA set up a reporting system called the Reportable Food Registry (RFR). Members of the food industry are required now by federal law to report a problem with a food product within 24 hours of detection. A customer of Basic Food Flavors who had purchased the HVP product tested it and found Salmonella in the product and notified FDA through its Reportable Food Registry, as mandated by law.
The FDA and state health departments began an investigation, which showed that some of the HVP made by Basic Food Flavors (one production lot) was contaminated with Salmonella. The investigators also found Salmonella within Basic Food Flavors manufacturing facility.
[Added March 24, 2010] What is the FDA doing to prevent these kinds of problems?
The FDA strongly believes that prevention is the best approach to minimize the potential for contaminated products to reach the consumer. The FDA is in the process of revising its current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) regulations (federal laws that companies must follow in preparing products for sale to minimize contamination or adulteration) to reflect the need for industry to use appropriate preventive controls and to verify they are effective. The FDA is giving presentations to industry to emphasize the need for them to use preventive controls that have been demonstrated to work and to take appropriate steps to verify they are working.
The FDA has also enhanced its inspection process of those companies that make products or ingredients such as HVP that could be contaminated with Salmonella from the processing environment. Even though the processes for making some foods like HVP include kill steps, if there are bacteria in the areas around the food or the equipment that comes into contact with the food, it can become contaminated after the kill step. Assessing the food manufacturing environment for potential routes of contamination, along with taking samples from the environment and testing them for Salmonella, can reveal situations that present a risk of contamination to food products.
This year, the FDA will significantly increase the numbers of inspections it conducts involving environmental sampling of manufacturers that make these kinds of ingredients. For example, inspectors will take samples from equipment and structures to see if Salmonella are present and will look for conditions that would enable bacteria to enter the setting and to contaminate the food. If risky conditions are found, the FDA will take action to keep the food from reaching food processors or consumers.
The FDA understands the importance of prevention, and this major increase in environmental inspections can help stop problems before they can cause illness.
[Added March 24, 2010] Had the FDA ever inspected Basic Food Flavors Inc.?
Yes. The FDA inspected the manufacturing plant in 1990 and found no violations. In 1996, an FDA inspection resulted in one observation for which the company needed to take voluntary action. An inspection by a state contractor in 2009, found no violations.