Basic Food Flavors–the company that made the hydrolyzed vegetable protein or HVP contained in 159 products recalled since the crisis over the ingredient began–tried talking for the first time Wednesday.

The company gave a statement denying it shipped product that it knew had been contaminated with Salmonella as reported in such nationally known publications as the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

hvp-featured.jpgDavid Wood, sales and marketing manager at Basic Food Flavors, told the news site the company did not respond to any earlier media inquiries because “we just wanted it to go away.”  Wood said he thinks their media strategy is working because the story is “beginning to die down.”

In a sense Wood may be correct.  News coverage as measured by the Google news index shows stories on Basic Food Flavors peaked in the week after food safety officials including U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg held a press conference on the HVP problem on March 4.

About half of the nearly 3,000 stories naming the company were written during that week, including those saying Basic Food Flavors knew its HVP was contaminated with Salmonella but continued to ship the ingredient.  At the time, officials at Basic Food Flavors were not responding to requests for comment.

In its statement Wednesday, Basic Food Flavors said: “While it is unclear whether FDA is suggesting in Form 483 that Basic Foods knowingly shipped adulterated product, the language used by the agency and reported by the press has created the implication.  We, therefore, consider it important to clarify that Basic Foods has not knowingly shipped into commerce any product the Company believed has the potential to contain Salmonella.”

According to the North Las Vegas company, it first learned of the report filed by one of its customers on the FDA Reportable Food Registry on Feb. 5, apparently from a lot produced on Sept. 17.   It tested 150 other production lots, and initiated the recall on Feb. 26, one week before FDA’s press conference on March 4.

The FDA form 483, the inspection report, said: “After receiving the first private laboratory analytical results (dated Jan. 21) indicating the presence of Salmonella in your facility, you continued to distribute HVP paste and powder products until 2/15/2010.  Furthermore, from 1/21/2010 to 2/20/2010, you continued to manufacture HVP paste and powder products under the same processing conditions that did not minimize microbial contamination.”

Wood also says 10,000 pounds of 10 million produced was contaminated.

Federal law allows for criminal sanctions to be imposed against food manufacturers who can prevent harmful food from being distributed and fail to do so, says nationally known food safety attorney William Marler.

The attorney says the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) is one of the federal government’s primary enforcement tools to prevent the distribution of contaminated or “adulterated” food.

According to Section III of the FD&C Act, a food manufacturer is guilty of a felony if the manufacturer knowingly adulterates a food product with the intent to defraud its customers. A food manufacturer commits a misdemeanor if the manufacturer is aware that a product is contaminated or “adulterated,” and has the power to stop the product from being distributed, but does not do so.

No illnesses have been associated with the nationwide HVP recall, nor have there been any indications that a criminal investigation is underway.