Sunday, March 7, 2010

Brace for massive food recall: officials

Brace for massive food recall: officials

Common flavouring may be contaminated with salmonella; some chips, dips pulled in Canada

Canadian consumers can likely expect an avalanche of food recalls after an ingredient used in thousands of processed foods was found to be contaminated with salmonella, government investigators said Friday.

The popular flavour enhancer hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) is added to a wide range of processed foods, including dips, salad dressings, chips, sauces, hotdogs, soups and frozen dinners.

Already, 56 products in the United States and two in Canada -- Hawaiian Kettle Style Sweet Maui Onion potato chips and T. Marzetti brand veggie dips -- have been recalled this week after salmonella was detected in the flavouring ingredient produced by a Nevada company.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Friday the recall net will probably widen as it continues to work with the Canadian clients of Basic Food Flavors, Inc. and importers of processed foods containing the ingredient.

Confronting a complicated and long supply chain, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. said this could result in one of the largest food recalls in North America.

"It has the potential, but we don't know," spokeswoman Rita Chappelle said.

In this case, Basic Food Flavors, based in Las Vegas, is one of a handful of companies that supplies hydrolyzed vegetable protein to foodmakers.

The additive, which comes as a powder or paste, is often blended with other spices to make seasonings that are used in or on foods to give them a meaty or savoury flavour.

A customer of the supplier identified a problem last month, when it found salmonella in supplies shipped from Basic Food Flavors. The FDA then inspected the processing plant and identified salmonella in the processing equipment.

All HVP manufactured since last September is caught up in the recall -- meaning millions of kilograms of a potentially contaminated additive were distributed in bulk to foodmakers over a five-month period.

To date, there have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of the recalled products, U.S. and Canadian authorities said.

Chappelle said the health risk is "very low" for a whole swath of products the ingredient is added to -- namely cooked processed foods -- because they "have a step in food processing which would effectively kill the salmonella. However, the risk would be to ready-to-eat food," she said, citing potato chips, dips and salad dressing as examples.

"You would just pop open a bag of potato chips and eat them."

CFIA spokesman

said Friday that since salmonella is destroyed when food is cooked to

a safe internal temperature, the agency is working with the FDA to determine which products contain the potentially contaminated ingredient, but do not include a step that would kill salmonella.

These are subject to recall, said Gravelle.

Food contaminated with salmonella may not look or smell spoiled, but consuming it may cause salmonellosis, a food-borne illness.

In young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, salmonellosis may cause serious and sometimes deadly infections. In otherwise healthy people, it may cause short-term symptoms, such as high fever, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

For more information on the chips and vegetable dips that have been recalled in Canada, check the What's New section of CFIA's

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