FDA Investigates Whey Powder As Potential Source of Salmonella Contamination

The FDA has indicated that whey powder is a common ingredient in 3 products recalled this week for potential Salmonella contamination.

This season is shaping up to be the summer of Salmonella in the United States. From pre-cut melon to Honey Smacks cereal to pasta salad to raw turkey, contaminated foods have been causing illnesses all summer long, and the bacteria is not discriminating against food groups, inciting panic across the country.

Earlier this summer, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement addressing concerns regarding whether or not outbreaks caused by food-borne illnesses are on the rise.

“What’s happening is that our ability to identify outbreaks has dramatically improved due to new information technologies and laboratory techniques,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, in the statement, “This is a view that we share with other experts, including the CDC, who have indicated that as these new methods are employed to protect the public from outbreaks, paradoxically the number of outbreaks may increase since we are now able to identify problems that had previously been invisible to us.”

Just this past week, the FDA issued recall statements for several popular snacks due to potential contamination with Salmonella. The recalled products include Ritz cracker cheese sandwiches on July 21, Goldfish crackers on July 23, and swiss rolls and bread produced under several brand names, also on July 23.

In response to the influx of recalls, Dr Gottlieg issued an additional statement revealing that while no associated illnesses have been reported at this time and there is no evidence to suggest that the recalled products are, in fact, contaminated, the products have been recalled out of an abundance of caution. In the meantime, the FDA is working on investigating any potential risks and monitoring if any cases of food-borne illness associated with the products are reported.

Dr Gottlieb reports that many of the recalled products contain a common ingredient—dry whey powder—produced by Associated Milk Producers Inc. of New Ulm, Minnesota, and as such, had been recalled as a precaution on July 25, 2018. The product is sold directly to manufacturers and is included in a number of foods and in animal feed.

According to the recall statement issued by the FDA, although the products that have been shipped into the marketplace tested negative for Salmonella, under routine testing, additional products tested positive for the bacteria. As a result, production at the Blair, Wisconsin plant that produces the dry whey has been halted and an investigation into the cause for the positive samples is underway.

It is likely that there are other manufacturers of food products that use the dry whey produced by the Associated Milk Producers, indicating that further recalls may be issued in the near future. According to the FDA, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is actively investigating products that may contain the ingredient, including Hungry Man products produced by Pinnacle Foods.

However, in a tweet posted on July 25, 2018, Dr Gottlieb indicated that it is not necessary to recall products that used the potentially contaminated ingredient. Some of the products may have processing steps that could eliminate the risk of contamination by heating the product to a designated temperature, and therefore, kill the bacteria. (See tweet.)

The FDA will continue to work alongside the CDC and the USDA to investigate the potentially contaminated whey product and any illnesses that may occur from consumption of the products.

“Our staff is actively engaged in this investigation and we take this very seriously,” stressed Dr Gottlieb in his recent statement. “We know that these are products that are widely eaten by consumers, including children. That’s, in part, why we are taking steps to intervene early on this potential risk, and why we will be communicating regularly with the public to provide information and updates on this issue.”

Contagion® will continue to track all product recalls related to whey powder.

For updated case counts of all of the ongoing Salmonella outbreaks in the United States, be sure to check out the Contagion® Outbreak Monitor.

Feature Picture Source: Marco Verch / flickr / Creative Commons.