The flavoring -- hydrolyzed vegetable protein -- is used in soups, sauces, hot dogs, snack foods, dressings and dips and is made by privately held Basic Food Flavors Inc of Las Vegas, Nevada.
At this time there are no known illnesses associated with this contamination and obviously we'd like to keep it that way, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told reporters in a teleconference.
The manufacturer had many first-level consignees who obviously had individuals who had firms that they sold to who sold to the other firms, said Dr. Jeff Farrar, associate commissioner for food safety at FDA's Office of Foods.
We expect this to get larger over the next several days, actually several weeks, Farrar said.
A handful of companies have recalled products ranging from dips, potato chips and dressings to tofu, burritos and pasta. They include T. Marzetti, a unit of Lancaster Colony Corp, which said on March 1 it was recalling various dips.
The FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Agriculture Department are working with Nevada state health officials on the outbreak, Hamburg told reporters.
Farrar said officials believe the risk to consumers is very low.
The FDA said it collected and analyzed samples at the Nevada facility and confirmed the presence of Salmonella Tennessee in the company's processing equipment. The company is recalling all hydrolyzed vegetable protein in powder and paste form that it has produced since September 17, 2009.
Salmonella can cause severe illness in the very young, very old and frail. It causes fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain and in the most vulnerable can cause a bloodstream infection and organ failure.
The FDA, CDC and USDA are currently working with Congress to overhaul U.S. food safety regulation.
Deputy FDA Commission Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said this outbreak showed why new regulatory powers were needed.
The shift in the food safety system that we can accomplish with the food safety legislation is one toward prevention and we would like to set strong preventive standards that keep contamination from occurring in the first place, he said.
Since 2006, the U.S. food supply has been battered by a series of high-profile foodborne outbreaks involving meat, lettuce, peppers, peanuts and spinach.
Contamination of peanuts with salmonella in 2009 forced the recall of 3,200 products and sickened 600 people.
This week, the Produce Safety Project reported that food poisoning costs the United States $152 billion in health-related expenses each year.
Many firms including Kellogg Co, whose company lost nearly $70 million in products from the recent peanut recall, and ConAgra Foods have been affected.