Key is food must be safe for consumption; a second chance for faulty food? FDA calls it 'reconditioning'
Posted: November 28th, 2011 - 3:51pm by Doug Powell
JoNel Aleccia of msnbc reports that turning imperfect, mislabeled or outright contaminated foods into edible -- and profitable -- goods is so common that virtually all producers do it, at least to some extent, sources say.
“Any food can be reconditioned,” said Jay Cole, a former federal inspector who now works as a senior consultant with The FDA Group, a firm that specializes in helping manufacturers comply with industry regulations.
For example, when Salmonella Tennessee was detected last year in huge lots of hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or HVP, a flavor enhancer used in foods from gravy mix and snack foods to dairy products, spices and soups, bulk HVP products from Basic Food Flavors Inc. of Las Vegas, Nev., were allowed to be reconditioned by heat-treating the foods to kill the salmonella, according to the FDA. The reprocessed foods were then distributed and sold.
No question, FDA regulations do permit foods to be reconditioned, said William Correll, the agency’s acting director of compliance. That leeway can avoid both waste and expense, he explained.
“Some things can be adulterated and fixed, and you’re not throwing out food that would otherwise be OK,” Correll said.
The key, however, is that the process must render the food safe for consumption.
“Dilution is not the solution.”
Similarly, companies that propose to eliminate a serious contaminant without addressing the source are turned down. He recalled a seafood firm with faulty bathroom practices that led to canned crab contaminated with fecal E. coli bacteria. Heat-treating would have eradicated the bugs -- but not the problem, Correll said.
“If food is adulterated in an unacceptable way, reconditioning won’t fix it,” he said. “You can’t cook the poop out of it.”
When a school lunch supplier repackaged moldy applesauce into canned goods and fruit cups, it drew a sharp warning from federal health regulators last month -- and general disgust from almost everyone else.
Correll said mold is tricky because when contamination is extensive, it’s not enough to simply remove the obviously tainted parts and then zap the food with heat.