Food & Drink

Here’s what you need to know about the recent whey powder-related salmonella recalls

What is salmonella and how do you keep from getting it?

Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC. The bacteria is typically transmitted through contaminated food, but some simple preventative measures can keep you from getting sick.
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Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC. The bacteria is typically transmitted through contaminated food, but some simple preventative measures can keep you from getting sick.

The recent cautionary recalls caused by a whey powder supplier’s salmonella issues sparked enough unrest that FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb issued a remain-calm-all-is-well statement Tuesday afternoon.

And in that statement, Gottlieb admitted there might be more recalls coming.

Still, here’s why this situation should be, at most, an annoyance as opposed to a health threat to the average consumer.

This isn’t an outbreak — Salmonella in Kellogg’s Honey Smacks? Cyclospora in McDonald’s salads? E-coli in romaine lettuce? Those were outbreaks. People in several states got sick. Some people got hospitalized. In the romaine lettuce E-coli outbreak, five people died.

Nobody’s gotten sick from Goldfish, Ritz crackers, Swiss rolls or Hungry Man TV dinners pulled because there might be a salmonella problem with the whey powder.

“There is no evidence at this time that anyone was sickened from one of these products, or that these products are contaminated,” Gottlieb’s statement said. “These recalls are being initiated because of a potential risk, and out of an abundance of caution.”

The problem starts with a company you probably don’t know — More than a few steps on the food production chain separate the average consumer from Associated Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI). Unlike Pepperidge Farm or Nabisco, their suppliers don’t need to trumpet their recalls with website posts and press releases to reach all their customers. Phone and e-mail will do.

“AMPI dry whey powder is not sold directly to consumers, but is used as an ingredient in a number of foods,” the company explained in a news release posted to its website Tuesday. “It is sold directly to manufacturers and also distributed by brokers. A limited amount was sold for animal feed.

“All products shipped into the marketplace tested negative for Salmonella as part of AMPI’s routine testing program. However, because additional product tested positive for Salmonella under AMPI’s routine test and hold procedures, the company is recalling product as a precautionary measure.”

AMPI also said it shut down production at the dry whey plant in Blair, Wisconsin, while it investigates what happened.

This isn’t that uncommon — Any problems with an ingredient supplier affects that supplier’s customers and that’s when it can seem like half of Publix is getting recalled.

In June 2017, a breadcrumb supplier forgot to let its customers know milk was used in making breadcrumbs. Some of the products with the breadcrumbs didn’t use milk otherwise, so they hit the marketplace without milk among the ingredients. No company wants any of its products linked to a fatal food allergy reaction because the ingredients were wrong.

Nine recalls covering 3.7 million pounds of food ensued. Products as varied as cans of Chef Boyardee with meatballs to Winn-Dixie house brand Italian-style Panko breadcrumbs got yanked.

You can expect more recalls — Gottlieb’s statement said, “As there are likely other food products made by other manufacturers that also use this common ingredient, there may be other recalls initiated in the coming days.”

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