Today, Reser’s Fine Foods, Inc. of Beaverton, OR, became the latest company to announce a recall of food products because they contain salmonella-contaminated hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP).  The contaminated HVP was supplied to Reser, among many other companies, by Basic Food Flavors, Inc., a Las Vegas, Nevada company. 

The recall linked to contaminated HVP from Basic Foods is already big, including at least 56 different food products distributed nationally.  But the question that we don’t know the answer to yet is just how big this recall will get.  High government says that this recall may turn into one of the biggest food recalls in recent memory.  The reason is that HVP is a flavor enhancer used in many, many widely distributed products; and Basic Foods had a lot of customers.

In a conversation with Jeff Farrar, associate commissioner for food protection at the FDA, the Washington Post reported:

Officials believe the public health risk is low, and no one is known to have fallen ill as a result of the contamination. But manufacturers voluntarily recalled 56 products Thursday, and that number is expected to balloon in the coming weeks into what could be one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.

"We don’t know precisely how large this recall will get," said Jeff Farrar, associate commissioner for food protection at the FDA. "The potential amount of products . . . is very large."

This country is, of course, no stranger to very large food recalls.  In one of the most famous outbreaks, which had devestating consequences, many of the biggest American produce companies recalled baby spinach due to a rash of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses.  Ultimately, the only company whose products actually were contaminated was Dole, who ultimately recalled many thousands of bags of baby spinach.  The resulting economic impact on the produce industry was a tough hit to absorb:  an estimated $350 million in losses.  Five people died in the outbreak, including Ruby Trautz, June Dunning, and Betty Howard. 

But an even larger outbreak in 2009, in terms of the number of confirmed cases (around 700), was the 2009 Salmonella typhimurium outbreak linked to peanut products distributed to multiple companies nationally by Peanut Corporation of America.  The resulting recall included almost 4,000 different products that contained peanuts, or further processed peanut ingredients, in retail foods.  Hundreds of different companies were involved in the massive recall.  It is estimated that the PCA recall resulted in $1.5 billion in industry losses.