Plant Suspected in Botulism Cases Had Production Issues

Associated Press
Friday, July 20, 2007

An Augusta, Ga., plant that makes the canned chili sauce suspected in a botulism outbreak had a production problem about two months ago, though a check of the cans had found no problems, a company official said yesterday.

Cans of chili sauce found in the houses of an Indiana couple and two children in Texas who were sick were produced around the time of the Castleberry's Food production problem, company spokesman Dave Melbourne said.

"We found not only chili sauce in both, but the same type," said Ezra Barzilay, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About two months ago, cans were coming out of a heating and sterilizing process too hot before going into a cooling canal, he said. Company officials stopped production because they wanted to make sure cans had not expanded and possibly allowed contamination, he said.

A check of can contents by independent evaluators also found no problems, Melbourne said. State and federal investigators have not found proof of problems that could explain the contamination, said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.

The company, which is owned by Bumble Bee Seafoods and based in San Diego, is cooperating, Melbourne said.

Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by bacteria commonly found in soil.

Each year, the CDC records roughly 25 cases of foodborne botulism poisoning. Most involve home-canned foods. CDC epidemiologist Michael Lynch said the last U.S. case of botulism linked to commercially sold canned food was in the 1970s.

The FDA warned consumers to throw away 10-ounce cans of Castleberry's, Austex and Kroger brands of hot dog chili sauce with "best by" dates from April 30, 2009, through May 22, 2009.

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