These days, recalls of widely used food ingredients are becoming quite common. Remember the PCA peanut product one in 2008-9 that went on for months and months? I kept thinking it was over, and then suddenly, yet another potentially contaminated food product would pop up under recalls. It eventually affected over 2,000 food products in 17 different food categories and made at least 714 people ill in 46 states. There was also a powdered milk contamination that year, as well as a pistachio one (less frequently used as an ingredient than peanuts) which received less publicity, but also affected many different companies and foods that use these as ingredients.
There have been problems recently with other common food ingredients as well. They including the 2007 melamine-containing wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate which contaminated our pet food and resulted in thousands of cat and dog illnesses and deaths - maybe 17,000 illnesses and some 4,000-6,000 deaths. The final numbers will never be known. Some of it turned up in our foods as well - though relatively little.
These types of food hazards are particularly scary for two reasons. One is that they can spread very widely and continue for months, creating a lot of havoc and illness along the way. Another is that they are so difficult for consumers to avoid, in part because of the nature of our industrialized food system, in which one company distributes to another which then may use these ingredients itself to make foods under different brand names -including house brands, or, distribute to still other food companies - or, do both. This can go on to create layers and layers of complexity and mystery.
At the present time, we have two such common ingredient outbreaks ongoing. One is in pepper (probably black and red - investigation is still ongoing - see earlier post), and the other is in hydrolized vegetable protein (HVP).
At present, some 153 food products are being recalled because of potential HPV contamination, including some very reputable ones, and house brand products such as those of Trader Joe's, Safeway and Publix. Here are some of the types of food products being recalled, all of which use HPV ingredients:
Dressing and Dressing Mix Products
Flavoring Base and Seasoning Products
Frozen Food Products
Gravy Mix Products
Prepared Salad Products
Ready-to-Eat Meal Products
Sauce and Marinade Mix Products
Snack and Snack Mix Products
Soup/Soup Mix and Dip/Dip Mix Products
And, by the way, except for that melamine case, the culprit in all these ingredient recalls has been one or other member of the Salmonella bacteria family. They seem to have an incredible capacity for survival.
This is getting scary.