by Marion Nestle
Mar 10 2010

What’s up with the hydrolyzed vegetable protein recall?

Thanks to Carol for this question: “I am wondering if you are planning to write anything about the current Salmonella Tennessee in hydrolyzed vegetable protein..and how it just might be in “everything.”

I wasn’t planning to make a big deal of the recall of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) – and the more than 100 products containing this flavor ingredient in the United States and in Canada – because the FDA seems on the job and nobody is getting sick (as far as we know).

But this one now looks like another food safety scandal.

To begin with, HVP is one of those fifth flavor, umami substances.  As the FDA explains,

HVP is a flavor enhancer used in a wide variety of processed food products, such as soups, sauces, chilis, stews, hot dogs, gravies, seasoned snack foods, dips, and dressings. It is often blended with other spices to make seasonings that are used in or on foods.

Translation: it is indeed in everything.

This scandal begins with a whistle-blowing customer of Basic Food Flavors, the manufacturer of HVP.  The customer ‘s company apparently tests its purchased ingredients for pathogens (what a concept!).  It found Salmonella in the HVP.  Sometime early in February, it notified the FDA.

The FDA inspected the Basic Food Flavors plant on February 12 and found Salmonella.   It also found records indicating that HVP tested positive for Salmonella on January 21.  What did the company do about the test?  Not a thing.  It continued to ship out products.

As the FDA described its findings:

After receiving the first private laboratory analytical results (Certificate of Analysis dated 1/21/2010) indicating the presence of Salmonella in your facility, you continued to distribute 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.

The FDA further explains [my emphasis]:

The FDA then began discussions with Basic Food Flavors regarding the firm’s intentions to conduct a voluntary recall of the HVP the company had made, in both powder and paste form, manufactured on or after Sept. 17. On Feb. 26, 2010, Basic Food Flavors began notifying its customers that it was recalling all of the HVP product in powder and paste form made since Sept. 17.

The FDA announced the recall on March 4.

This means that from January 21 until at least February 20, the company continued to ship HVP potentially contaminated with Salmonella.

Then, over the next six days, the FDA had to beg Basic Food Flavors to issue a recall.  The company may have started notifying customers on February 26 but the FDA did not announce the recall until March 4, weeks after the first findings of Salmonella.

Do we need more evidence that the FDA needs the authority to order recalls?  And when is Congress going to get around to passing the food safety bill?  The last I heard, they were talking about May, maybe.  At best, this would be nine months after the House passed the bill last August.

Undoubtedly, this situation is frustrating for the FDA.  But it is downright dangerous to us.   It’s time to scream at Congress to act.

Addendum: The fallout from the recall is just beginning.  Windsor Farms of Lampasas, Texas and Oakland, Mississippi is recalling 1.7 million pounds of ready-to-eat beef taquito and chicken quesadilla products+ containing HVP.   Procter & Gamble is recalling Pringles Restaurant Cravers Cheeseburger potato crisps and Family Faves Taco Night potato crisps.  And here are some more:

  • Anthro

    This stuff may be in “everything”–everything packaged or prepared, but it’s not in MY food–is it? Would it be on the ingredient list of, say, whole wheat pasta or tomato paste or dried apricots? Those are the only packaged things I could find in my pantry.

    But, to the point of your post, I will contact my senators today. There are apparently hundreds of bills awaiting their attention and some representatives are pretty fed up with the state of the senate.

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  • Dear Dr. Nestle: I made my own investigation, puzzled by the fact that Basic Food Falvors offers some non GMO ingredients, (I am the editor of Via Organica a sister organization in Mexico of the Organic Consumer Association). By the way the non GMO ingredients are not involved in the recall. The FDA mentioned a voluntarily recall by the same company made on September 17, 2009. I wrote an article in Spanish, I will do my best to translate it soon

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  • renita

    My husband picked up a few groceries the other day and bought a can of the Cheeseburger Pringles, not having read/heard about the recall. He’d already eaten a third of them when I got home and said “Isn’t that one of the flavors that got recalled?”

    I’m glad nobody’s gotten sick, and we took them back for a refund, but good grief, you think they’d take them off the shelves…

  • Cheeseburger Pringles???? I shudder to think what other nasty ingredients could be in a “food” like that! If they don’t make you sick immediately, eat them every day and they will eventually.

  • Everyone should be aware that the primary mission of the FDA is to protect the profits of corporate food industries – not the health of Americans. This incident clearly demonstrates this. This is the NORM – not the exception – of how the FDA operates.

  • Cathy Richards

    I’m disheartened by this story for so many reasons.

    Lack of accountability.

    Apparent lack of any fine to the company.

    The cost this company has presented to the FDA and all customer’s affected by the recall.

    The incredible vulnerability, reach and cost of such a centralized and processed food industry. A company’s moral poverty since the shareholders bottom line prevales over the customer’s health. And our population’s poverty (in time, skills, motivation, value systems) that allows centralized processed food industries to thrive while farmers struggle.

    That this much effort and expense is put into something that – as far as we know — has not caused any illness. And so little effort/expense is put into fixing the big picture.

  • renita

    stan, I have no interest in cheeseburger pringles, but I am not my husband’s mommy or food police.

    plus, hvp is in ALL kinds of stuff. so get off your high horse, eh?

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  • Kate D

    Hey – Am I wrong to think this is really largely soy protein? As someone with a soy allergy, I’m told to avoid everything with HVP in it because it is generally soy. Do you have any information about what this HVP was?

  • Eileen L

    A little over a year ago, I decided to stop eating processed foods. That’s right, everything I buy is single-ingredient fresh or frozen and I make my own meals from scratch.

    Stan (posting above) hit the nail on the head: the FDA is not there to help us. They help themselves and Big Business – a mutually beneficial arrangement, I’m sure.

    Wise up, people. Help yourselves because the government isn’t going to do it for you.

  • ***********What is Food METH ? —

    Food METH is NOT a MYTH!

    Fast food is so addictive, BECAUSE IT CONTAINS “HIDDEN MSG” (monosodium glutamate), the ‘METH’ of the Processed Food Industry!

    SEE: ‘/HiddenSources.html’
    for 25 plus Names used for “HIDDEN MSG.” You will never guess their names!

    The “HIDDEN MSG” has clever names! The MSG is hiding right under the public’s noses. MSG (an ‘excitotoxin’) only purpose in food, is to make you eat more and more and more and….

    ‘’ lists the huge number of names for the “HIDDEN MSG,” so you won’t be fooled any more !!!!

    For example, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP) is made by boiling junk vegetables in vats of sulfuric acid and then doused with caustic soda. –Sounds like the making of METH!–

    But HVP is “only one” of the new FOOD METHs. It was recently, recalled by the FDA for salmonella contamination.

    “Citric acid”, made from “CORN and BLACK MOLD,” is another clever name.

    Everyone thinks it is made from citrus. LOL

    Try a few more names on for size: CARRAGEENAN, Natural Flavors, Spices, Malted Barley, Autolyzed Yeast, Enzyme Modified, etc….

    “HIDDEN MSG” is in Baby formula, sauces, dips, garden burgers, chili, etc.

    I lost 12 pounds immediately after I eliminated food with “HIDDEN MSG!”

    And I ask you, “Would you knowingly consume MSG or feed it to your BABY?”

    Most would answer, “Absolutely NOT!”

    I hate to tell you, but you are eating it if you are eating FAST FOOD! or Processed Foods!

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  • Nancy Bridgeman is on the money about hidden MSG. As Health
    Editor for’s newsletter, THE DOG PRESS, I have been warning pet owners about HVP and other food additives.

    In addition to all the MSG derivatives (including hydrolized vegetable protein), which are waste vegetable materials that are boiled in hydrochloric acid, the food industry is also including so called functional fibers. These fibers can be extracted from more than 36,000 plants. It would be impossible to diagnose an allergic reaction back to any of them, which have names you would not recognize as well as trade names to keep you from identifying them. Functional fibers are being used by the food industry to treat our colons, yet these people are not in the medical profession.

    In additon to functional fibers, live bacteria (referred to as probiotics, a made up name), molds and fungi are being added to pet foods, and probably human food as well. Pets are experiencing many health problems for this very reason. All the while this same industry wants its probiotics to be accepted as alternative drug treatments for colon and immune problems. That would make them drugs! Do we want that in our food supply? The food industry appears to have enough problems with visiable contamination, yet they are willing to put in bacteria that can multiply and go unseen!

    Many additives, including HVP, may be coming from China. This risk could be even greater than the Melamine disaster of 2007.

    In order to avoid all the soy in foods, I make everything from scratch. Many people do not realize that soy is in everything, including mayonnaise, salad dressing, breads, and baked goods. They include it in the list of ingredients, but few food companies make a big deal of it by including a stand alone statement that says “THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS SOY”. Soy affects the thyroid and the food chain is likely responsible for many health problems that are now on the rise. One of my cats had a seizure on two occasions after eating Starkist Chunk Light Tuna in Water.

    Starkist Tuna in water used to be Tuna, water, and salt. Now it is Tuna, water, vegetable broth and salt. But look below and you will see that the product states: Contains: Fish

    Additives have proven to be bad for the health of humans and pets. They are not just ingredients, but an entire industry. The only way to stop them is to reject them. Eat whole foods.

  • That was scholarly piece.