Salmonella Found in Food Additive Sparks Massive Recall of Processed Foods

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The Food and Drug Administration has asked a variety of food companies to recall more than 30 products, from vegetable dips to soups, that contain a commonly used food additive that has tested positive for salmonella.

There have been no reports of people getting sick from eating foods with the ingredient, a flavor enhancer called hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or HVP. Some batches of the ingredient that tested positive were shipped from a Las Vegas-based company.

FDA officials couldn't determine how many products might need to be recalled but noted that HVP is used in thousands of products across the U.S. Products being recalled include some prepackaged foods made by Earth Island, tortilla soup mix made by Homemade Gourmet and chicken soup base made by Castella Imports.

Jeffrey Farrar, associate commissioner for food protection, said the risk to consumers of getting sick is "very low." HVP generally represents just 1 percent of the total ingredients in a product.

Some products that received HVP from the Las Vegas company, Basic Food Flavors Inc., won't need to be recalled. These include most foods that are cooked. Cooking generally kills salmonella. Basic Food Flavors didn't immediately respond to comment.

The recall comes as the FDA and consumer groups are urging Congress to pass food safety legislation that would give the regulatory agency more power to police the industry.

In a conference call with reporters, FDA officials said multiple times that the recall underscores the need for lawmakers to pass a food safety bill that has stalled in the Senate.

The legislation would also allow the FDA to force companies to recall products, require better record keeping and boost inspections of food facilities, especially those handling risky foods.

Joshua Sharfstein, the deputy commissioner at the FDA, said "we would like not to have episodes like this in the future." He said the legislation would help shift the focus "towards prevention."

In recent weeks, the FDA has announced several initiatives related to food safety, and on Wednesday slapped more than a dozen companies with warnings for how they market their foods and beverages.

Trader Joe's, a grocery store, posted a statement on its Web site about one recalled product, its Organic Creamy Ranch Dressing Dip. It noted that products with a use-by-date of June 13, 2010, in their stores in the southwestern U.S. may contain an ingredient contaminated with salmonella. As a precaution all of the product has been removed from store shelves and has been destroyed, the company said. Trader Joe's hasn't received any reports of illness related to that salad dressing and dip.

Click here for more on the recall.