Maker of Salmonella-Tainted Ingredient Knew Plant was Contaminated, Shipped Product Anyway

Recalls part of a larger industry ingredient recall that are linked to potential <"">Salmonella exposure continue to be implemented. While there have been no reports of Salmonella-related illness in relation to these products, over 100 product recalls have been announced as of yesterday and more are expected.

Now, the Washington Post is reporting that Basic Food Flavors, Inc., in Las Vegas, Nevada, the company at the root of the problem, apparently was aware that its plant was contaminated with the potentially deadly pathogen, yet continued to manufacture hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), selling it to food makers nationwide, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

We recently wrote that the FDA announced it is actively investigating findings of Salmonella Tennessee in HVP, which was manufactured by Basic Food Flavors. HVP is a flavor enhancer used in a wide variety of processed food products and that is also often blended with other spices to make seasonings used in or on foods. According to FDA’s March 4, 2010 release, the agency conducted an investigation after a customer of an FDA-regulated firm reported finding Salmonella in the HVP ingredient. This resulted in the subsequent recall of the contaminated products.

It seems, said the Washington Post, the Basic Food Flavors managers knew as far back as January that prior samples taken from the Nevada plant tested positive for Salmonella, but, according to FDA inspection records, continued shipping products to food makers. Worse, Basic Food Flavors tested surfaces near its food processing equipment throughout the Nevada plant on two occasions in January and once last month, said the Washington Post, citing FDA records; every time, Salmonella was present.

The records indicated that Basic Food Flavors continued to make more HVP and ship products, but never cleaned the site or its equipment in such a way that contamination would have been minimized. “The FDA is reviewing the evidence in association with the current inspection of Basic Food Flavors to determine the appropriate regulatory response,” FDA spokeswoman Meghan Scott said, quoted the Washington Posts.

To knowingly sell food products containing the Salmonella pathogen is against the law, said the Washington Post.

The FDA conducted 14 inspection in about two weeks, documenting “dirty utensils and equipment—mixers and tubing coated with brown residue—and cracks and fractures in the floor, as well as standing water on the floor—all conditions where bacteria can breed,” said the Washington Post. The FDA inspectors noted that they found “standing, grey/black liquid” in a drain in an area with paste mixers and belt dryers and where HVP is converted from paste to powder, said the Washington Post. “We sensed an odor in the vicinity of this drain,” the inspectors wrote, quoted the Washington Post.

Basic Foods produces about 20 million pounds of HVP each year and the contamination appears to go back as far as September 2009, implicating millions of pounds of HVP. A list of affected products can be found at

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems and can significantly sicken healthy people with fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

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