Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes lifted a three-week old ban on the sale of Gerber strained peaches today after concluding that glass fragments discovered in half a dozen jars of the baby food "would not appear to be the result of any defects in Gerber's manufacturing process."
Hughes' decision, announced at a news conference this afternoon, came after a joint investigation by officials from the state health department and the federal Food and Drug Administration.
After testing several thousand jars of baby food from Maryland stores, Hughes said, the investigation has "revealed no discernable pattern that would lead us to suspect a common problem in the manufacturing or distribution of the product."
Jim Eyler, a Baltimore lawyer who is representing Gerber in the $150 million lawsuit the manufacturer filed against Maryland officials after the ban, said that Gerber approves of Hughes' decision and will decide by early next week whether to continue with its lawsuit.
"We are obviously pleased that the investigation shows what we have said from the beginning," Eyler said.
Gerber spokesman Jim Lovejoy said he was uncertain when stores would be placing the peaches -- one of the company's most popular fruits -- back on their shelves.
Lovejoy said that he could not estimate how much money the company has lost, but added that no grocery store has canceled orders for the baby food.
Hughes said that tests were continuing to determine how the baby food became contaminated with glass particles.
"I don't think there's any indication yet what caused the problem," said Deputy Attorney General Dennis M. Sweeney.
Hughes defended his original decisions to ban the sale of strained peaches and advise the Maryland public to avoid consuming Gerber strained fruit products as prudent precautions to protect infants.
"I don't think we were excessively cautious," Hughes said. "I don't think you can be excessively cautious . . . to protect a vulnerable part of our population."Staff writer Chris Spolar contributed to this report.