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Top Food Safety Stories of 2010: Nos. 13 & 14

In the third installment in our Top 17 Food Safety Stories of 2010, No. 14 is the success of the FDA’s early detection tool, the Reportable Food Registry:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet issued a report for the second half of the year, but there is enough evidence that the FDA’s Reportable Food Registry is a success.


New tools in the war against foodborne illness don’t occur that often, and there has been plenty of skepticism about how FDA would implement a congressional mandate for an electronic portal for the industry and public health officials to use when they know something might harm the human or animal food supply.

A year ago, Carol Smith DeWaal at the Center for Science in the Public Interest told Food Safety News the portal would “only be useful if the government ties them into some kind of a rapid alert system.  We learned a long time ago that getting information into the government isn’t the same thing as getting information out to the public.”

FDA claims the new portal is providing just those kinds of alerts.  “The FDA’s new reporting system has already proven itself as an invaluable tool to help prevent contaminated food from reaching the public,” said Michael R. Taylor, the deputy commissioner for foods.

The portal collected more than 100 food safety reports from industry during the first half of the year.   The Reportable Food Registry speeds the identification and investigation of potential hazards in human, animal, and pet food, FDA says.

In the report on the registry’s first six months, FDA said the portal logged 125 primary reports about a food safety concern, and those filings brought about another 1,638 subsequent reports from food suppliers or recipients both domestically and from abroad.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, FDA’s commissioner, credited the portal with early notification regarding contaminated hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), a flavoring ingredient, at a Nevada food processor.  The led to the largest recall of a single ingredient in 2010, involving 177 separate products from almost as many companies.

FDA says another example of the registry coming through as an industry alert involved a recall of multiple products containing unlabeled sulfites.

Taylor says the registry gives FDA the benefit of information being generated by tests for the food industry.  He says the registry is proving to be an effective tool in helping the agency prevent foodborne illness.

Under a 2007 law, industry must report foods or feeds that present a reasonable probability of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.


Number 13 on the Top 17 story countdown is that recall of 177 Products containing Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP) :

When top Homeland and National Security officials appear at an unexpected press conference, the media is interested.  But when FDA Commissioner and top officials from “outbreak control” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call a press conference without advance warning late in the afternoon, it’s also just a little scary.


Early last March, that’s exactly what happened.  Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA commissioner, was there to talk about a flavoring agent called hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP).  Basic Food Flavors, a food processing company in North Las Vegas, supplies much of the HVP used in all sorts of foods — dips, soups, dressing, snacks.

After a report about possible contamination came into its new Reportable Food Registry, FDA launched an investigation of Basic Food Flavors and found Salmonella in the HVP and the company’s processing facility.  While Basic Food was denying it was responsible, the top FDA-CDC officials were holding their press conference in Washington, D.C.

Initially, there were fears that as many as 10,000 products containing HVP might be tainted.   As it turned out, just 177 products containing HVP from Basic Food Flavors were recalled.  Nevertheless, is was the largest ingredient-based recall of 2010.

Generally speaking, ready-to-eat products (such as ready-to-eat bacon) had to be recalled, but products that would be cooked, getting a “kill step” to eliminate pathogens, escaped recall.

Recalls involving ingredients are complicated, because ingredients can be so widely distributed in so many different products.

Much bigger ingredient recalls occurred in 2009, when more than 3,900 products containing Salmonella-tainted peanut butter or peanut paste from the now defunct Peanut Corporation of America had to be removed from the marketplace.

Also in 2009, pistachios from Terre Belle Inc. led to the recall of 664 products that contained them and other contaminated ingredients, mostly powdered milk, from the Plainview Milk Cooperation resulted in the recall 272 products.

Basic Food Flavors is a major–if not THE major–supplier of HVP to the food industry, and the contamination was limited to a 10,000-pound lot, the company stated in a belated announcement of what happened.  

We will pick up again on more Top Stories tomorrow.

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