Since the hydrolyzed vegetable protein recall was announced on March 4, we have received many questions from consumers about HVP and the products that have been recalled. Here are some of the top questions that we’ve received:
- What is hydrolyzed vegetable protein?
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, also known as HVP, is a flavor enhancer that is added to many processed foods, such as snacks and snack mixes, soups and soup mixes, and frozen foods. HVP is made by processing plants like corn, soy, and wheat to change the proteins into their basic components. The end result is a paste or powder that food processors add to their foods to give them a richer flavor.
- Are all foods that contain HVP being recalled?
No. The only products that are being recalled are those that contain HVP made by Basic Food Flavors on or after Sept. 17, 2009 that do not have a food processing step that would kill Salmonella or require further cooking by consumers.
The good news is that most processed foods contain very little HVP. Also, most food processors include processing steps that would kill any Salmonella present when making their products, such as heating to a high temperature or for a long period of time. These processing steps are often referred to as “kill steps,” since they kill the Salmonella. That’s why these foods aren't included in the recall, since they are not considered to present a risk.
- Has anyone gotten sick from eating the recalled food?
To date, no illnesses have been reported, even though these food products had been sold and used since September 2009. Because there have been no reports of illnesses to date, this situation is not considered a "foodborne outbreak."
The risk of becoming sick from the contaminated HVP is very low in most cases. Even so, the FDA, the CDC, and other federal and state agencies are closely monitoring the recall and reports of illnesses to prevent harm to the public.
We have compiled a comprehensive list of questions and answers about the HVP recall, which we update to address questions from consumers. If you have other questions after reading through that list, feel free to submit your questions here.
More Questions and Answers
Posted April 15, 2010
Q. What is the difference between HVP and MSG? Can you still label food 'natural' when it contains HVP?
A. HVP is made by breaking down proteins from certain foods, such as corn or wheat, into their building blocks. These building blocks are called amino acids, and one of them is called glutamic acid. Under certain conditions, glutamic acid exposed to sodium can become monosodium glutamate (MSG).
As to your question about labels... first, a little background. HVP can't be listed on food labels as "hydrolyzed vegetable protein"; it has to be listed according to the food from which the HVP was made. For example, if the HVP was made by breaking down protein from corn, it has to be listed as "hydrolyzed corn protein"; if wheat was used, the label would say "hydrolyzed wheat protein," etc. And manufacturers can't just call it "natural flavor" on the ingredient list. It has to be listed explicitly in the ingredients, as just described.
But now switch gears away from the ingredient list and consider the rest of the label on the food product. Here's where it could get a little confusing, so more explanation is in order. Food labels can make claims like "natural" or "heart healthy" on the front of the product, as long those claims are truthful and not misleading and meet any requirements that FDA has established for the use of those claims. (If manufacturers make those claims without following the requirements, they're in violation.) HVP might be among the ingredients of those kinds of foods -- so you could find a food label that says something like "Natural!" on the front and also lists some type of hydrolyzed vegetable protein among the ingredients.
Q. Does the list of ingredients list this item as HVP?
A. HVP can be listed in different ways on food labels, depending on what ingredients were used to make the HVP. For example, if it's made from wheat, it must be listed as "hydrolyzed wheat protein." If it's made from corn, it's listed as "hydrolyzed corn protein" It can't be listed as "flavor enhancer" or "hydrolyzed vegetable protein." If you're checking food labels to see if a food has HVP, it's better to check the list of recalled HVP products to find out if a company has announced a recall.
As a veterinarian, and a pet owner, I understand how people feel about their pets. For many of us, our pets really are like members of our families. And I firmly believe that we should treat our pets like family when it comes to their food and food safety. It’s actually quite easy, when you know what to do:
- Keep those food and water bowls clean.
You wouldn’t eat off the same plate or drink out of the same glass, day after day, without washing them between meals, right? So it stands to reason that you should keep your pet’s food and water bowls clean as well.
Dogs, cats, and other pets have bacterial microbes in their mouths (people do too!), and these microbes can be transferred to the pet’s food and water dishes. If food is left in the dish, that makes for a good environment for the bacteria to grow and may cause illness—not only in your pet, but also in young children who may play with the food dish..
We recommend washing your pet’s food bowl between meals every day and the water bowl every day or two.
- Store pet food safely.
It’s never a good idea to leave leftovers out of the refrigerator overnight and then feed them to your family the next day. The same holds true for your pet’s food.
If the pet food is moist, refrigerate promptly or discard any unused, leftover wet pet food. Store dry pet food and treats in a cool, dry place (under 80º F). If possible, store dry pet food in its original bag inside a clean, dedicated plastic container with a lid, keeping the top of the bag folded closed. Always wash and dry your pet’s storage containers before refilling them with new food.
- Wash your hands.
We all know that we’re supposed to wash our hands before handling and preparing food, but what you may not know is that the same is true for before and after handling pet food and feeding your pets. Doing this helps keep pet foods from being contaminated with bacteria and other microorganisms, such as Salmonella that can cause disease. If the food is inadvertently contaminated with an organism that causes disease, washing hands also helps to prevent anyone handling the pet food from becoming ill and possibly spreading the disease to others.
Always wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling your pet’s food (including treats) and feeding dishes.
For more information on pet food and other pet safety issues, check out our Resources for You page.
I work in a group at CDC that investigates foodborne illnesses in the United States — illnesses like salmonellosis and E. coli infection. One challenge we face during an outbreak investigation is trying to figure out the source of the outbreak.
When a group of people consume the same contaminated food, an outbreak of illness can occur. This group may be people who ate a meal together or people who happened to buy and eat the same contaminated item from a grocery store or at a restaurant.
Here’s why outbreaks can be such a mystery:
- When people get sick from food, they often assume the cause was the last thing they ate before they started feeling ill. That’s often not the case. For many foodborne illnesses, it can take anywhere from several hours to several days before people start to feel sick. The cause could have been something they ate several days ago, something they might not even remember eating.
- The contaminated food usually looked, smelled, and tasted perfectly fine, making it sometimes very difficult to determine exactly what made them sick.
- If safe food production and handling practices were not followed, the food could have become contaminated at any point, from the time the food was harvested or produced until it was eaten.
- People who get sick with a foodborne illness don’t always see a health care provider. When they do, the providers don’t always test for bacteria that cause foodborne illness. These test results are very important, because CDC and other groups need the results to detect outbreaks.
- Because people are often not interviewed until weeks after they became sick, they may have trouble remembering what foods they had eaten or what spices and condiments they may have added to their food.
So, how do we figure out which foods are making people sick? Some of the things we do are:
- Use technologies, such as “DNA fingerprinting” of bacteria from ill people to help determine which ones might be linked to a common source of infection.
- Interview people who have gotten sick to find out what foods they recently ate.
- Interview people who haven’t gotten sick to compare what foods they recently ate to the sick people.
- Study information from previous outbreaks to see which foods have often been a source before.
- Compare the types of bacteria found in food or ingredients during the outbreak to the types found in people who are sick.
How does this affect you? One thing to remember is that only a tiny fraction of foodborne illnesses are reported as part of an outbreak. While it’s important to keep track of food recalls to avoid getting sick, it’s equally important to follow the basic food handling rules: Clean, Cook, Separate, and Chill. And, if you suspect that you have a foodborne illness, report it to your local health department. Often calls from concerned citizens like you are how outbreaks are first detected.
Questions and Answers
Posted April 14, 2010
Q. How about expiration dates for food in schools and hospitals?
A. The information we provide is intended for use by consumers in the home. For information about storage times of food in a food service environment, like a school or hospital, please contact your local or state health department. For information about food safety and the elderly, see Food Safety for Older Adults.
For consumer information on expiration dates and product dating for foods in the home, see Food Product Dating. The two charts under Storage Times at the bottom of the page provide details on refrigerator home storage of fresh and uncooked food products as well as processed products.
Q. Are there easy ways to determine whether an illness is caused by food poisoning when other types of illnesses have similar symptoms?
A. Unfortunately, many different kinds of illnesses can cause diarrhea, fever, or abdominal cramps, and they can spread in different ways, making it difficult to determine if your illness was caused by a food or by something else. Some common viruses can spread from one person to the next without involving food. Many bacteria and parasites can spread through food, and also water, or from animals or from other infected people.
Determining which bacteria or other germ is the cause of the illness depends on laboratory tests. Even if once you know the germ that caused it, determining that it came from food can take a public health investigation that is not often done. If your illness is severe enough, visit your health care provider. If you are concerned that it really is from food, call your local health department.