RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If high levels of salt and genetically modified organisms aren't enough to drive you away from processed foods, the ongoing recall of processed foods, ranging from chips and dips to bouillon cubes and beef taquitos, might. The recall, due to a salmonella-contaminated ingredient widely used in food processing, was first announced on March 4 and has since expanded to 110 products and counting, adding up to over a million pounds of food.
THE DETAILS: At the center of the recall is hydrolyzed vegetable protein, an ingredient derived mostly from soy, and in some cases corn or wheat. It's made by taking one of the aforementioned crops and breaking those down into individual proteins, which are then used to add flavor and boost the protein content of foods, says Clair Hicks, PhD, professor of food science at the University of Kentucky and a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technology. It has a few other functions, as well. A lot of fast-food restaurants use meat treated with hydrolyzed vegetable protein because it allows the meat to retain more water, so it tastes juicier. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein isn't normally added to meat sold in retail stores, he says, because consumers don't like the idea of buying meat injected with additives, but it is a common ingredient in processed meats like hot dogs and meat alternatives like tofu.
WHAT IT MEANS: Fortunately, there have been no reports so far of illnesses associated with the salmonella-tainted flavoring, despite that fact that hydrolyzed vegetable protein can crop up in thousands of products. So far, the recall has included chips, dips, powdered soup and dip mixes, pretzels, spice mixes, bottled salad dressing, beef taquitos, canned stew, and gravy.
Read on to learn more about hydrolyzed vegetable protein and how you can avoid it.