As the list of products recalled for containing Salmonella-contaminated hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)–a little-known, but widely-used flavoring ingredient–continues to grow, more politicians and public health experts are calling on the Senate to pass stalled food safety legislation.

lobby-day-armstrong-featured.jpgThe hydrolyzed vegetable protein being recalled only comes from one Las Vegas food company, Basic Food Flavors, but has the potential to be included as an ingredient in thousands of processed food products further down the supply chain.  Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is used most frequently in processed foods like dips, salad dressing, soups, and sauces.

“This most recent [recall] demonstrates once again that we cannot wait any longer to pass comprehensive food safety legislation,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), in a statement Thursday, just hours after he spoke before a group of 45 foodborne illness victims and their families who were in Washington lobbying for the passage of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510). Harkin is chairman of the Senate committee that unanimously approved the bill in mid November and he’s been a strong advocate for advancing the bill to the floor for a vote.

“We’ve got to get this done,” Harkin said, as he met with families who have become intimately acquainted with the consequences of the current food safety system through bouts of E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and the complications that often follow.

It was coincidental that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the expanding ingredient recall the same day families took to the Hill to advocate for more stringent food safety regulations, but the timing was certainly helpful for getting their point across.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee which oversees the FDA’s budget, and a long time food safety champion of updating the food safety system, reacted to the recall by again urging the Senate to act on its food safety bill–the House passed a similar measure by a substantial margin last July.

“This recall clearly reinforces the FDA’s need for legislation that allows the agency to focus on prevention–prevention of contamination and prevention of these contaminated products from entering the marketplace,” said DeLauro. “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to act quickly on strong food safety legislation to prevent unsafe food from entering our grocery stores and homes in the first place.”

Sarah Klein, a food safety attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said the “massive” recall offers “yet more proof that the Food and Drug Administration needs more authority, more inspectors, and more resources to ensure that our food supply is safe.”

“Most Americans would be stunned to learn that FDA doesn’t even have the authority to make recalls like these mandatory,” said Klein. “It’s worth asking: When was the last time an FDA inspector visited this particular facility in Nevada? This is why the Senate must act now to pass the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, so that the agency can help prevent contamination in the first place, rather than chase down tainted products long after they’ve left the manufacturer.”

Officials at the agency echoed a similar message.

“This situation clearly underscores the need for new food safety legislation to equip FDA with the tools we need to prevent contamination,” said Jeff Farrar, associate commissioner for food protection for FDA’s Office of Foods, on a call with reporters late Thursday.

Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret Hamburg and ‘Food Czar’ Michael Taylor, have also been very outspoken about the agency’s need for the pending food safety law.

The laws governing the food system have not been substantially updated since 1938.

For a complete list of foods recalled due to hydrolyzed vegetable protein, see the FDA website.

Pictured:  Elizabeth Armstrong and her daughter, Ashley, who nearly died after suffering hemolytic uremic syndrome secondary to an E. coli O157:H7 infection, met with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) during Foodborne Illness Victim Lobby Day.