Friday, March 12, 2010


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:

Bouillon Products
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
Stuffing 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.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


It is always nice to be proven right, although I know I should really not be pleased since people are becoming seriously ill all over America. But I did predict that the next big outbreak would be caused by Salmonella bacteria. And I did warn that spices are much more deadly than those innocent little pinches of taste suggest.

It is a long story, but basically what has been going on for the last few weeks is an outbreak of Salmonella montevideo bacteria in black and/or red pepper. Yes, Salmonella has proven itself quite able to live for months in dry environments, such as spices. And of course, it may soon move to a much pleasanter home when such spices are used as ingredient in many processed and ready-to-eat foods - or, in our homes.

In this case it started with people becoming ill from eating a variety of ready-to-eat Italian-style meats distributed by Daniele International Rhode Island(see earlier post). A trace-back of ingredients by the FDA eventually pinpointed pepper as the suspect ingredient, and the likely source as two companies - Overseas Spice Company, Dayton, N.J.; and Wholesome Spice Company, Brooklyn, N.Y. (some irony in the 'wholesome' name, right?). Both of these companies had supplied pepper to Daniele International. Of course, both also sold to other commercial companies as well, who incorporated them into their own products, or packaged and sold them under other labels.

As a result we now have a spreading outbreak and multiplying number of food product recalls - not just spicy sausage, but also recalls of black and red pepper - whole black pepper, crushed red pepper, and ground red pepper and of dips mixes and a variety of seasonings- too many to list. Two of the distributor are Dutch Valley Food Distributors, Inc. and Frontier Natural Products Co-Op. Frontier not only sold under the Frontier brand but also under the Whole Foods Market brands (poor Whole Foods - here's another recall for you). This is just the tip of the iceberg, or the beginning of the landslide.

In the meantime, illnesses caused by such Salmonella contaminated pepper have occurred in 44 states. So far there have been at least 249 confirmed cases, with many more winding their way through the reporting system, and more still to come.

The FDA is continuing its investigation of the original source of these pepper products. It isn't saying at the moment. My guess would be China, where a lot of such spices come from these days. I'll see what I can find out.

Bon appetit (but take it easy on the peppers and spicy sausages and hope your retailer is keeping up with the recalls).