What’s infecting our snacks? FDA commissioner links Salmonella fears to one US whey supplier, warns of more recalls

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

The FDA has issued a statement warning people more recalls could be in the pipeline because of Salmonella contamination. Pic: ©GettyImages/kentoh
The FDA has issued a statement warning people more recalls could be in the pipeline because of Salmonella contamination. Pic: ©GettyImages/kentoh

Related tags Snacks Salmonella Product recall Kellogg company Mondelez Campbell soup company Flowers foods Pepperidge farm Whey Fda

Kellogg’s, Mondelēz, Pepperidge Farm and Flowers Foods have recently recalled bakery and snack products after a whey powder ingredient supplied by Associated Milk Producers has been suspected to be contaminated with the Salmonella bacteria.
Dr Scott Gottlieb

To-date, more than four snack brands have been recalled, including a variety of Mondelēz’s Ritz cheese sandwiches and Ritz Bits cheese products; around 3.3 million units of Cambell Soup-owned Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish crackers; and Flowers Foods’ Swiss Rolls sold under the brand names Mrs. Freshley’s, Food Lion, H-E-B, Baker’s Treat, Market Square and Great Value, as well as Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread.

Separately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this month linked Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal to a Salmonella​ outbreak in 33 states that sickened more than 100 people.​ The CDCs even issued a warning to consumers to not eat Honey Smacks, no matter what box size or ‘best by’ date.

The recalls have been linked to a common whey ingredient supplied by Associated Milk Producers (AMPI).

Dr Scott Gottlieb, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, has warned the public to expect more recalls, as “there are likely to be other food products made by other manufacturers that also use this common ingredient.”

AMPI responds

Following a request for comment, AMPI’s VP of Public Affairs, Sarah Schmidt, issued a universal press statement and directed BakeryandSnacks to a press release on the coop’s website that notes a recall of a “limited amount of dry whey powder”​ produced at the cooperative’s Blair, Wisconson, dry whey plant during the months of May and June, due to a potential Salmonella​ contamination.

According to AMPI, dry whey powder is not sold directly to consumers, but is used as an ingredient in a number of foods. It is sold directly to manufacturers and also distributed by brokers. A limited amount is sold for animal feed.

It added all its customers have been instructed to return or destroy the batches concerned, and production has ceased at its Blair plant, currently under investigation for the cause of the positive samples of Salmonella.

“It’s important to stress that all dry whey powder products shipped to our manufacturer and broker customers tested negative for ​Salmonella,” said Schmidt. “We will continue to work with the FDA to provide products that meet our customers’ requirements, meet government food safety standards, and provide the nutritious benefits of dairy products to customers throughout the US.”

The AMPI has recommended the best way to avoid contamination is to throw out any products that are subject to a recall or return them to their point of purchase. Additionally, any container housing these products should be thoroughly washed with hot water and antibacterial soap.

He added the US Department of Agriculture is also working with Pinnacle Foods regarding Hungry Man products that may contain this ingredient.

However, he noted the recalls were initiated “out of an abundance of caution,”​ as no cases of illnesses have been reported.

Unlikely but posssible

Stewart Eaton
Stewart Eaton

Bill Marler, partner at food safety law firm Marler Clark, told CNBC that he had not heard of a whey recall in 25 years.

However, Chris Harvey, director, Recall Solutions, Stericycle Expert Solutions told BakeryandSnacks that Salmonella​ contamination cannot always be prevented and recalls happen to even the most diligent of companies.

“In this case, the issue stems from positive contamination tests with a supplier of whey products. We refer to this as the ‘multiplier effect’. In the past, problems with cumin spice and sunflower seeds have had a similar ripple effect. In some cases, a single supplier issue can impact dozens of brands and hundreds of products.

“The good news is that testing has become faster, more advanced, and more accurate in recent years,”​ Harvey told us.

Stewart Eaton, head of Product Recall, Regional Unit London, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, added whey powder is a high-volume ingredient that is incorporated into many products within the supply chain.

“Taking into account the bulky, high-volume nature of the product, it is necessary for a risk-based approach to be employed with regards to the sampling regime employed for possible contamination.

“It is not possible to test every grain of powder within such a bulk high volume product and is therefore likely all parties concerned would have conducted some sort of microbiological testing of small samples,”​ Eaton told this site.

“We have seen food businesses undertake voluntary recall of their products because the whey powder has been incorporated into their product. The recalls have been conducted in the abundance of caution and in the interest of protecting public health. This is irrespective of immediate financial implications to the business.”

Kill step

Chris Harvey

Eaton added that, given the high number of recalls being baked snacks, he would have expected each to have undergone a cooking kill step that would eliminate the presence of Salmonella.

“This would ordinarily be a CCP under their HACCP program with the process validated and verified at regular intervals. Under the FSMA, for example, this risk-based rationale would be deemed sound and would not require a recall,”​ he said.

Harvey added companies are usually remembered more for how they handle the recall than for the recall itself.

“For example, having adequate staffing to manage the volume of calls from concerned consumers is critical – especially in situations where the food product is frequently eaten by children,”​ he said.

“For those companies who don’t use whey in their products, it may be tempting to breathe a sigh of relief, but we urge them not to be complacent.

“Again, multiplier effect recalls happen with more regularity than many realize, and if they do receive a notification in the future, it is important to be prepared to act fast. That means having robust, regularly updated recall plans,” ​said Harvey.

“We’ve seen some companies who think they have a plan in place, but it is really more of an outline. In addition, mock recalls can help identify any areas where there are potential pitfalls that could result in brand damage or lost customer loyalty.”

Whey is a byproduct of dairy processing, used in making cheese and yogurt. It is also used to make the seasoning for many snacks.

As an animal product, it can be contaminated with germs, including Salmonella.

Related topics Regulation & Safety