Spiders may not be the current danger for Little Miss Muffet when she eats her curds and whey. Last week, several snack cracker recalls centered around possible salmonella contamination of the ingredient whey. If you’re familiar with the nursery rhyme, you probably instinctively associate whey with milk or milk products, but what exactly is it?
Whey is the liquid that remains after you strain curdled milk. In food manufacturing, it is a byproduct of making cheese. Cheddar and Swiss cheeses leave sweet whey and cottage cheese and yogurt leave acid or sour whey.
When cheese was made at home, the remaining whey could be substituted for milk in baking. Even now, I sometimes use the liquid from yogurt in baked goods. Whey was also consumed as a beverage with honey and alcohol.
In US commercial food manufacturing, whey was a waste product dumped into rivers until the US government prohibited such dumping. Faced with a disposal problem, manufacturers began to look for other ways to use it. They first developed a filler for ice cream.
Whey’s use as a filler in convenience foods grew from there. It is now found in products that may or may not have inhabited my snack bin – things like King’s Hawaiian Bread, Cheetos, Ritz Sandwich Crackers, Goldfish Crackers, Nature Valley Protein Bars, Luna Protein Bars, Oatmega Protein Bars, Swiss Rolls, and Similac Pro-Advance Infant Formula. Whey has also become a nutritional supplement popular with bodybuilders because of its leucine content.
The primary components of whey are water, lactose, protein, fat, and amino acids. The proteins include beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, lactoferrin, and immunoglobulins.
Three types of whey protein are produced in the food industry – Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, and Hydrolyzed Whey Protein. In theory, whey protein isolate can be safely consumed if you have lactose intolerance, but other forms of whey protein may cause symptoms.
Like most milk in the grocery store, the whey contained in convenience foods is typically pasteurized to make it less likely to harbor bacteria and safer to consume. Unfortunately, as we have recently seen, it can still become contaminated during manufacturing or packaging.
It’s no secret that I prefer fresh food prepared at home. I think it tastes better, and I feel better knowing what’s in the food. Of course that doesn’t mean that all my food will be free from a risk of salmonella, listeria, E. coli, or other contaminants.
And real life means that I sometimes reach for convenience foods. Of course, I read the labels. I have to make sure they’re free of gluten and shrimp. Right now, I’m making sure they’re free of whey.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”