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Flavoring ingredient recalled; risk of illness seen as low

Thousands of processed foods — from soups to hot dogs to dips — contain a flavoring ingredient contaminated with salmonella, but government food safety officials say most affected products are safe because cooking, either before or after sale, eliminates the risk.

Basic Food Flavors of Las Vegas, sold the ingredient, called hydrolyzed vegetable protein, to food manufacturers across the country. But one of the company’s customers found salmonella in supplies sent from Basic Food Flavors, and the customer alerted the Food and Drug Administration, which in February inspected the Las Vegas plant.

The inspection uncovered salmonella in the company’s processing equipment, leading Basic Flavors to recall all its hydrolyzed vegetable protein made since Sept. 17, 2009. As a result, food manufacturers have recalled more than three dozen products but more such recalls are likely.

Among the foods being recalled are Castella Imports’ Castella Chicken Soup Base, Marzetti’s Southwest Ranch Veggie Dip and Follow Your Heart’s Curried Tofu.

Health officials have yet to find anyone who has been sickened by the contamination.

Dr. Jeff Farrar, the food agency’s associate commissioner for food safety, said, “We believe the risk represented by this recall is very low to consumers.”

Closing of highway rest stops has Arizonans seeing red

PHOENIX — The people of Arizona kept their upper lips stiff when officials mortgaged off the state’s executive office tower; they remained calm as lawmakers pondered privatizing death row.

But then the state took away their toilets, and residents began to revolt.

“Why don’t they charge a quarter or something?”’ said Connie Lucas, who lives in Pine, Ariz., about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from here. “There was one rest stop between here and Phoenix, and we really needed it.”

Arizona has the largest budget gap in the country when measured as a percentage of its overall budget, and the state Department of Transportation was $100 million in the red last fall when it decided to close 13 of the state’s 18 highway rest stops.

But the move has unleashed a torrent of telephone calls and e-mail messages to state lawmakers, newspapers and the Department of Transportation decrying the lost toilets — one of the scores of small indignities among larger hardships that residents of embattled states face as governments scramble to shore up their finances.

“People in this state are mad about this,” said state Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, who has sponsored a bill that would allow other entities to reopen and maintain the rest stops. “This bill may have the broadest support among members of any bill this year.”

Obama takes health care deadline to Democrats and insurance companies

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, beginning a full-court press for his health care overhaul, met Thursday with insurance industry executives and some selected House Democrats, as party leaders on Capitol Hill struggled to figure out whether they can meet the president’s fast-track timetable for enacting legislation within the next few weeks.

One day after Obama vowed to do “everything in my power” to get a bill passed, his health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, convened insurance executives at the White House and pressed them to release actuarial data justifying their rate increases. The president stopped by — an appearance that was unscheduled, but clearly orchestrated — to deliver a letter from an Ohio woman and cancer survivor who had dropped her insurance after a 40 percent rate increase.

Obama spent the afternoon in back-to-back private sessions with two separate groups of House Democrats: liberals and members of the various minority caucuses, many of whom are uncomfortable with the bill because it lacks a “public option” or government-backed insurance plan, and leaders of the centrist New Democrat Coalition.

No-Child law is a highlight of hearing on education

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is presiding over the rollout of the largest competitive grant program in his department’s history, a vast expansion of the government’s direct loan program for college students and sweeping new expenditures on failing schools, teacher quality and other big initiatives.

Everyone agrees it is a hugely ambitious agenda.

So it was not surprising that the first question Duncan faced from lawmakers on Wednesday in an appearance before Congress was whether the Obama administration would also try this year to rewrite, or reauthorize, the main law on federal policy on public schools, No Child Left Behind.

“Every Monday or Tuesday when we come back to Congress, my colleagues come up and ask when we’re going to reauthorize, and between us, I don’t know if we have a complete answer yet,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “Our position is we would really like to get this done this session of Congress.”

Is that your position? Miller then asked Duncan.

The secretary replied: “That is absolutely the goal. There is so much we can do to fix the current law.”