In these types of cases, involving basic food ingredients like flavourings - as with the earlier peanut oil and gluten recalls - pathogens can end up in thousands of different brand name products. It's hard to know what to do.
The latest crisis
Below is a picture of the beginning of a list of products that have been recalled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency because they contain HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEINS which come from specific plants in the United States, and which are probably contaminated with Salmonella Bacteria. As you can see by the scroll bar at the top right, it's a long list.
To see the whole list go to The Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Salmonella can make you very sick and in special cases, like people who are already ill or the very young, or the very old it can cause death.
The symptoms of Salmonella poisoning are diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. Symptoms last from 4 to 7 days. An extended bout of diarrhea can become fatal to otherwise healthy individuals.
HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEINS are in EVERYTHING. They're used as a medium to spray on stir in natural and artificial flavourings in junk food. It's in snack foods big time, and in seasonings you use cooking at home.
In these types of cases, involving basic ingredients like flavourings - pathogens can end up in thousands of different brand name products - and it hard to read those tiny lists with all those five syllable words.
A history of Crisis
This is much like the salmonella peanut products crisis that was with us for most of 2009. From the Wikipedia article, "Salmonellosis":
..Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), and urged people to postpone eating commercially-prepared or manufactured peanut butter-containing products and institutionally-served peanut butter. Salmonella was reported to be found in 46 states in the United States in at least 3,862 peanut butter-based products such as crackers, energy bars, and peanut butter cookies from at least 343 food companies. Dog treats were affected as well. At least 691 people in more than 46 states became sick, and the Salmonella claimed at least nine lives as of March 25.
Peanut butter and peanut paste manufactured by PCA were distributed to hundreds of firms for use as an ingredient in thousands of different products, such as cookies, crackers, cereal, candy and ice cream, all of which were recalled. Some products were also sold directly to consumers in retail outlets like dollar stores
Earlier, in 2007, melamine (that stuff they make kitchen counter tops out of) got into glutamate stocks which are used as thickeners for all kinds of foods. In America's experience the crisis killed or adversely effected the quality of life of millions of family pets. From the Wikipedia article, "2007 pet food recalls":
By the end of March, veterinary organizations reported more than 100 pet deaths amongst nearly 500 cases of kidney failure, with one online database self-reporting as many as 3,600 deaths as of 11 April. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received reports of several thousand cats and dogs who have died after eating contaminated food, but have only confirmed 14 cases in part because there is no centralized government records database of animal sickness or death in the United States as there are with humans (such as the Centers for Disease Control). As a result, many sources speculate that the actual number of affected pets may never be known and experts are concerned that the actual death toll could potentially reach into the thousands.
Through the quick action (or a cover up), the FDA prevented the melamine tainted glutens from getting into the human food supply chain. So things like soups, TV dinners, or those instant gravies you buy that makes giving a Thanks Giving turkey dinner easer, were not affected.
What to do?
In this case, the HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEINS salmonella contamination, there are potentially millions of places the tainted flavouring could end up. You can't check every snack food - so just don't eat snack food until:
- The government traces the contamination point and fixes it.
- All the recalls have been properly carried out.
So until this is resolved, carefully check the best before dates and ingredient lists against the CFIA recall lists on stuff like;
- black pepper
- cheesy puffs
- flavoured corn chips
- tortilla chips
- soup mixes
- flavoured seeds & nuts
- seasoned popcorn
- all chip dips
- flavoured pretzels
- flavoured onion rings
- flavoured rice cakes
- all purpose vegetable seasoning
- seasonings you use at home to cook with
The take home message: Flavouring BAD. Try spices and herbs - grow your own in a flower pot or your back yard - this is going to last for some time.
..and get on Canadian Food Inspection Agencies email notification list - the list will expand daily like it has for the last four weeks.
The recall started on March 2, 2010. Here's a copy and paste of the first four notices from the CFIA.
From the CFIA list of related updates (my emphasis):
# 2010-03-07 - Various Foods Containing Hydrolysed Vegetable Proteins (HVP) Recalled by Basic Food Flavors Inc. May Contain Salmonella Bacteria
# 2010-03-03 - Tim's Cascade Snacks Recalls 'Hawaiian® Kettle Style Potato Chips - Sweet Maui Onion' and 'Hawaiian - Sweet Maui Onion Rings' Because of Possible Health Risk
# 2010-03-02 - HAWAIIAN KETTLE STYLE POTATO CHIPS, SWEET MAUI ONION, may contain Salmonella bacteria
# 2010-03-02 - Certain T. MARZETTI brand veggie dips may contain salmonella bacteria
Note it took five days for the FDA and CFIA to isolate the problem to Hydrolysed Vegetable Proteins. Over the next couple of days the FDA and the CFIA tracked the problem down to two wholesalers of flavourings:
- Basic Food Flavors Inc.
- Mincing Overseas Spice Company
This next screen shot represents pretty effectively the expanding list.
The CFIA has the complete list of related alerts, by date issued, and with links to the press releases starting 03/02/10.
To sign up to get automatic Recall and Allergy notifications to your email via the CFIA.
The FDA recall data base has a much better user interface, you can search brand or generic names within a subject heading (like Hydrolysed Vegetable Proteins recall).
It's US consumer market place, so you won't recognize some brands and the manufacturers of those brands may not ship into Canada. To get info on the Canadian situation you have to go to the CFIA website.
At the FDA site I typed in "Humpty Dumpty Potato Chips" - just to try it out - no recall.
Next I tried "Potato Chips" and got this (cut and paste):
|Searched for 'Potato Chips' in Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein Containing Products Recalls. ||Sort by date / Sort by relevance|
|... Kettle Style Potato Chips - Sweet Maui Onion, Tim's Cascade Snacks, 1 ounce bags, |
Code dates: MAR 09 10 up to and including JUN 07 10, 1159400116, http://www.fda ...
www.accessdata.fda.gov/.../scripts/HVPCP/brand_list.cfm?brand=Hawaiian&cat=Snack%20and%20Snack%20Mix - 24k - Cached
[MS EXCEL] Sheet1
|... 10, Soup/Soup Mix and Dip/Dip Mix, Great Value, Ranch Chip Dip, T ... 13, Snack and Snack|
Mix, Hawaiian, Kettle Style Potato Chips - Sweet Maui Onion, Tim's Cascade ...
www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/HVPCP/HydrolyzedVegetableProteinProductsList2010.xls - Text Version
[ More results from www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/HVPCP ]
Every time I go to a us.gov site, they get better; at gov.ca - well, it's functional...