Friday, March 19, 2010

Salmonella + HVP + Corn

What is common between Follow Your Heart Beef Au Jus, CVS Honey Mustard Pretzel Bites and ofTrader Joe’s Organic Creamy Ranch Dressing & Dip? All of these products contain hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) which can be produced by boiling soy or corn, these products are among the10,000 other products that have been recalled in fear of the spread of salmonella through one step on the food commodity chain. Salmonella often starts off like a stomach flu, but can turn fatal.

For example, Trader Joe’s Organic Creamy Ranch Dressing Dip was recalled throughout their stores in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada due to fears of contaminated HVP. Where did this contamination originate, and how did the potentially infected disease spread to 10,000 different foods? After some research, I found it originated from the company Basic Food Flavors, which is located in North Las Vegas, Nevada.

The large impact of a single contaminated plant has a far reaching impact resulting from the complex food production practices of today. There are many ingredients which are needed to make a single make a single ingredient on the nutrient information label, and even more ingredients required to make the final product on the shelf. What may seem like a single ingredient, HVP on a food label, is rather a highly processed food additive. According to US Recall News, “HVP is made by first boiling corn, wheat or soy in hydrochloric acid. The solution that is produced from boiling the cereal or legume is then neutralized with sodium hydroxides, which causes the acid to breaks down or hydrolyze the protein in the cereal or legume into their individual amino acids."

Michael Pollan explains how corn is transformed in America into a large portion of the food products, wich Americans consume, and most of them do not even resemble corn.

“The longer the ingredient label on a food, the more fractions of corn and soybeans you will find in it. They sappily the essential building blocks, and from those two plants (plus a handful of synthetic additives) a food scientist can construct just about any processed food he or she can dream up.” Pg 91-92 in The Omnivores Dilemma

Since there are even more ingredients of food there are more steps on the commodity chain where something could go wrong. In this situation, the single Basic Food Flavors HVP plant caused a recall in a such a large number and wide variety of foods. On the company’s website, there were six pages worth of products and lot numbers of contaminated HVP. Had there been a simpler commodity chain it would have been easier to identify the specific items containing the salmonella.

Similar to the spinach example by Philip H. Howard from Michigan State University discussed in class, the implication of economic principle of horizontal integration in the production of corn into HVP meant that many diverse varieties of food could become contaminated. Since horizontal integration, means that a single company controls a large portion of a single step in in the production of a single product ( in this case HVP), the contaminated HVP had the potential to reach large numbers of citizens. Had the production of the food occurred at a smaller scale the scale of the recall would not have been as large.

However, this threat of contamination was not expressed on Basic Food Flavor’s website, rather the company desired growth and an even larger scale of production, “The addition of our spray dryer, continuous belt dryer, numerous pressure cookers, and our second continuous belt (to be online in 2009) provides our customers with the security of knowing their HVP will not be in short supply.”

All in all, what can be learned from this instance is how vulnerable our food system really is. If a single stage of the food production goes wrong, it has effects of reaching thousands of consumers.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Fascinating - and disturbing. Nice research for this post.