Whey powder made by Associated Milk Producers at its Blair, Wisconsin, plant has been recalled due to the potential for salmonella contamination. The product has been linked to recalls of products from Mondelez International, Campbell Soup and Flowers Foods, Food Business News reported.
According to a July 24 statement from the Food and Drug Administration, there's no evidence anyone has been sickened by the recalled products. They include certain Ritz Cracker Sandwiches and Ritz Bits from Mondelez; some Flowers Foods' rolls sold under brands including Mrs. Freshley’s, Food Lion, H-E-B, Baker’s Treat, Market Square and Great Value, plus Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread; and four varieties of Campbell's Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a public health alert July 20 telling the public not to consume some Hungry Man Chipotle BBQ Sauced Boneless Chicken Wyngz because the whey powder was used in the ranch dressing seasoning incorporated into the product's mashed potatoes.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the statement that other related recalls may be forthcoming, since the whey powder is a fairly common ingredient.
The FDA noted that the voluntary recalls were initiated from an abundance of caution because the CPG companies aren't sure if the whey powder caused their products to become contaminated. Manufacturers use whey powder to modify texture, thicken and gel foods and to enhance their solubility and transportability, according to a 2017 study published in Science Direct.
Associated Milk Producers said all of its whey products shipped into the marketplace tested negative for salmonella as part of the company's routine testing program. But because additional product did test positive for the pathogen under routine test-and-hold procedures, the recall was announced as a precautionary measure.
Meanwhile, production at the company's main plant has stopped while an investigation into the cause of the problem is completed. The company noted that it doesn't sell whey powder to consumers; it is sold directly to manufacturers and distributed by brokers.
Recalls are likely to happen once in a while for big ingredient suppliers and food manufacturers. Most brands do whatever they can to avoid them and minimize the damage if they do occur. The average cost of a recall can be as much as $10 million if brand damage and lost sales are figured in, according to a 2011 study from the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
For downstream companies using the recalled whey powder, it's hard to minimize the damage once a voluntary recall has been announced. The best they can do is explain the situation to the public, note which batches of product may be affected, offer refunds to consumers, and double down on testing procedures. Once the reason for the contamination is determined, companies may have to decide whether to source whey powder somewhere else, or substitute another product.
Since it's so critical that contamination be avoided in every single ingredient in a food product, manufacturers may want to reconsider all the facets of their production and see which ingredients they could do without. They also might want to do some testing of their own at facilities run by ingredients manufacturers, or generally require more stringent testing protocols from those with whom they do business. All these strategies cost money and time, but they're nothing compared to the direct and indirect costs of a recall.
The good news is that no reports of illness connected with these recalls have been announced. That is a sort of victory in itself, although no one associated with the whey powder — from its production to the end products — should be resting on their laurels. Consumer trust hangs in the balance, so food makers must stay vigilant and make sure their products are as free from contamination as humanly possible.