It is not known how many food companies used potentially contaminated whey powder in their products; it is not known how many pounds of the whey powder have been recalled; it is not known how many foods will be recalled because of the whey powder — that is, the public doesn’t know.
Federal officials and the producer of the whey powder know most of those details, though.
Associated Milk Producers Inc., the company that made the powdered dairy ingredient, won’t reveal its customers, including third-party distributors that sell the product on to other businesses. A spokesperson for the Minnesota-based milk company said Tuesday that “AMPI staff personally contacted each affected customer organization” about the potential contamination and subsequent recall.
When recalls involve food and food ingredients that are sold only on a business-to-business basis, the Food and Drug Administration has not historically revealed the companies involved. Such information falls under protection for “confidential corporate information,” according to FDA officials.
Federal officials have not received reports of any confirmed Salmonella illnesses in relation to foods already recalled because of the whey powder ingredient. However, consumers who have recently developed symptoms of Salmonella poisoning have no way of knowing whether other foods they have eaten were made with the recalled whey powder.
In an unusual move Tuesday, the top administrator at the Food and Drug Administration, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, issued a statement regarding recalls and alerts that have already been posted because of the whey ingredient. Those nationwide notices include one flavor of Hungry Man frozen chicken dinners, several brands of swiss rolls, several varieties of Ritz crackers, and several varieties of Goldfish crackers.
“I want to reinforce that, at this time, this is a cautionary step and we appreciate that these companies are taking these measures,” Gottlieb said. “As there are likely other food products made by other manufacturers that also use this common ingredient, there may be other recalls initiated in the coming days.”
There is little doubt the agency under Gottlieb’s control has access to at least a partial list of food companies that received the whey powder from AMPI. The FDA shared the list with recall staff at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
“The initiating firm — in this case the producer of the whey powder — and FDA provided information about where the recalled whey powder was distributed, then FSIS’ Office of Field Operations immediately followed up with FSIS inspected firms to determine if any USDA inspected products may be affected,” a spokesperson for FSIS told Food Safety News.
The FSIS investigators discovered the recalled whey powder had been used in the Hungry Man frozen chicken dinner product and issued an alert. Because the product includes poultry, it falls under the jurisdiction of the FSIS. As has been the practice for years, the FSIS identified the ingredient supplier in the Hungry Man alert. The FSIS also routinely posts locations of retailers that receive foods that are subject to recalls or alerts.
The USDA’s food safety arm releases information regarding FSIS facilities in the same manner for all recalls, regardless whether the initially recalled ingredient was inspected by FSIS or FDA, according to the FSIS spokesperson.
“At this time, no further UDSA products are known to be affected other than the product (Hungry Man dinners) named in the Public Health Alert,” the spokesperson said.
The FDA commissioner maintained a more vague tone in his statement. Gottlieb said FDA officials “believe” the recalled foods “may contain a common whey ingredient supplied by Associated Milk Producers Inc. …”
Gottlieb promised his agency would “be communicating regularly with the public to provide information and updates on this issue.”
“We know that these are products that are widely eaten by consumers, including children. That’s, in part, why we are taking steps to intervene early on this potential risk,” Gottlieb said.
Details from the manufacturer
Unlike the FDA commissioner’s message, the statement from Associated Milk Producers Inc. says definitively that Salmonella was found in a sample of the company’s whey powder. The discovery was made as part of its test-and-hold protocol.
“All products shipped into the marketplace tested negative for Salmonella as part of AMPI’s routine testing program. However, because additional product tested positive for Salmonella under AMPI’s routine test and hold procedures, the company is recalling product as a precautionary measure,” according to the company’s statement.
“AMPI has ceased production at its Blair, WI, dry whey plant, is currently investigating the cause for the positive samples, and will take all necessary remedial actions.”
The AMPI also reported a “limited amount” of the implicated whey powder had been sold for animal feed.
Although the company will not release its customer list to the public, AMPI’s statement Tuesday did include specific details about the recalled milk product.
The dry whey powder subject to the recall is packaged in 50-pound and 25-kilogram bags that were produced at the cooperative’s Blair, WI, dry whey plant from May 1-5, May 24-29, June 2-5, and June 7-14.
The products included in the recall can be identified by the following lot numbers, which can be found printed along the top of the bag.
- 7000.118.121.BL – 7000.118.125.BL
- 7000.118.144.BL – 7000.118.149.BL
- 7000.118.153.BL – 7000.118.156.BL
- 7000.118.158.BL – 7000.118.165.BL
Advice to consumers
Food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria does not look or smell bad, but it can still cause serious infections. Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled foods and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure to the bacteria. Specific lab tests are needed to diagnose and treat Salmonella infections.
Although people of any age can be infected by Salmonella, infants, children, seniors and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness that can result in hospitalization and life-long complications.
Symptoms of a Salmonella infection, called salmonellosis, typically start 6 to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria, but in some people it takes two weeks for symptoms to develop. Symptoms include fever, chills, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting. The symptoms usually last for four to seven days.
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