Kevin Allen: Hydrolysed vegetable protein – another reminder of how little raw material testing is performed by food producers

Kevin Allen (right, pretty much as shown), an assistant professor of food microbiology at the University of British Columbia who used to focus on perfecting his hockey skills through food microbiology graduate education but has more recently shifted his focus to preventing foodborne illness, writes:

As details of the Salmonella enterica serovar Tennessee contamination of hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP) recall associated with Basic Foods Inc. (BFI), Nevada unravel, it is clear that many issues have played a role in this escalating and pervasive recall.

The finding of S. Tennessee on processing equipment at the BFI production facility demonstrates serious deficiencies in their sanitation program; the delay in reporting and back-dating of the recall show a lack of proper risk communication and management; and the continued manufacture and shipping of potentially contaminated HVP product to food producers shows a serious lack of risk-based decision making. Together, this has the potential to result in a large number of continued recalls and smacks similar to the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) recall in which S. Tennessee contaminated peanut products (2008) led to over 4,500 affected food products.

In both recalls, there appears to be a lack of responsibility associated with the food producers using these contaminated products. Because traditional microbiological testing requires highly-skilled laboratory technicians and an abundance of laboratory equipment, cost-cutting measures have routinely focused on decreased in-house testing of raw materials. Rather than microbiologically verifying the quality of individual raw materials which, admittedly, is a time-consuming process, food producers have increasingly relied on the vendor’s provision of a certificate of analysis stating that the product is microbiologically safe. In theory, this process of relying on vendor (i.e. BFI, PCA) assurances of microbiological acceptability should work providing that the vendor is producing the product hygienically and subsequently testing it appropriately. However, based on these two examples alone, food producers need to start verifying the microbiological quality of their raw materials, and stop relying on vendor’s assurances.

A food producer who used HVP in a product should be able look back at that lot to see that yes, our company used it, we tested it prior to use and found no pathogen contamination. Based on this approach, all production lots that were associated with production would also be tested and shown pathogen-free prior to retail distribution. However, cost-cutting, production requirements, and a simple willingness to assume microbiological safety of raw materials based on third-party assurances have once again severely impacted the food industry in a negative manner. Maybe it’s time food producers go back to the basics, and realize that microbiological testing of raw materials is not a waste of time and money, but rather a critical step in providing microbiologically safe foods to the public.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil: who was Salmonella plant’s auditor?

More corporate douchebags who talk a good food safety game but could care less have been caught endangering people and losing huge piles of money for their owners.

The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are reporting this morning that Basic Food Flavors Inc., the Las Vegas company at the center of a recall of more than 100 food products containing hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or HVP, continued to make and distribute food ingredients for about a month after it learned salmonella was present at its processing facility, according to a Food and Drug Administration report.

Managers at Basic Food Flavors of Las Vegas learned on Jan. 21 that samples taken a week earlier from their Nevada facility tested positive for salmonella, but they kept shipping their product to foodmakers, according to FDA inspection records.

The FDA last week recommended companies recall products, from chips to soups, that contain a commonly used additive made by Basic Food Flavors that tested positive for salmonella. The additive is mixed into foods to give them a meaty flavor.

FDA officials inspected Basic Food’s plant for about two weeks starting in mid-February and found the company didn’t adequately clean equipment and store foods to protect against the growth of contaminants such as salmonella, according to the inspection report.

The inspectors noted that "light-brown residue" and "dark-brown liquid" was observed on or around where Basic Food makes flavor-enhancing ingredients used in foods. The inspectors said brown residue was also found in a plastic pipe used in making food ingredients.

Basic Food makes a flavor enhancer called hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or HVP. The FDA report said the company first learned salmonella was present at its processing facility for HVP on Jan. 21. The company continued to distribute the ingredients until Feb. 15. A representative for the company wasn’t immediately available to comment. The company hasn’t responded to earlier requests for comment.

No illnesses have been reported related to the recall, said FDA spokeswoman Rita Chappelle.

But those who shipped out Salmonella-positive ingredients are still douchebags.

A list of affected products can be found at

Salmonella in veggie protein – the Canadian angle

I’ve already given Kevin Allen enough attention – the dude who really enjoyed himself too much while bouncing hockey pucks off my head – but he’s polite enough to give credit and he took my risk analysis course back in 1998 when he was a fledgling graduate student.

The course devotes a lot of time to food safety risk communication and Kevin, being a bright guy, thought, CBC is about to call and ask me about Salmonella in hydrolyzed vegetable protein, I’ll check in with Doug for some tips.

Kevin called, I told him to figure out what his couple of key messages were and hammer them home, cause TV and radio are relentless in their quest for simplicity, and the result is in the first couple of minutes in the video available at

Not bad, although his second soundbite may have had more Canadian credibility if he said, “as a father of two children and a hockey player (goon)” but who am I to quibble.

Canada, meet your newest food safety spokesthingy, from Belleville, Ontario, now plying at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Kevin Allen (above, right, exactly as shown).