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Botulism Death Reported In New Mexico, Possibly Tied to Castleberry's Food Company Recall Earlier This Summer

Sep 24, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Botulism is being blamed for the death of a New Mexico man, prompting health officials to renew warnings about the Castleberry’s Food Company recall of  canned foods earlier this summer.   Though there is no way to know for sure if one of the tainted Castleberry’s products was to blame for the man’s death, health officials said that he had eaten some of the recalled food before becoming ill. The 52-year-old man, whose identity is being withheld, was hospitalized with botulism poisoning on July 26, and died about 6 weeks later.

In July, four people in Texas and Indiana became ill after eating Castleberry’s botulism-tainted hot dog chili sauces.    The outbreak ultimately forced Castleberry’s to recall over 90 varieties of canned products manufactured by its Augusta, Georgia plant.  The Centers for Disease Control said that all of the individuals had eaten hot dog sauce made by the company.  

The Castleberry’s hot dog chili sauce botulism outbreak was the first related to commercially canned foods in more than forty years.  The disease can cause paralysis and leads to death in about eight percent of cases.  Fewer than 30 incidences of the disease are reported each year, and they are almost always linked to home canning.  Symptoms of botulism include blurred vision, drooping eyelids, muscle weakness, slurred speech and difficulty swallowing.  If not treated properly, botulism can paralyze breathing muscles.  Victims can spend months on ventilators until the botulism toxin is out of their system.

The Food & Drug Administration  said that the Castleberry’s recall is not yet complete, as many cans of recalled foods have yet to be accounted for.   For weeks after the recall, tainted cans of Castleberry’s foods were still being found store shelves.   For this reason, consumers are being asked to once again check their pantries for any of the recalled items.

The news of the botulism death in New Mexico comes just days after the Castleberry’s factory in Georgia that produced the tainted food was allowed to reopen.  The Augusta factory was forced to close on July 21 after it was determined that a malfunctioning production line had produced the botulism-laced chili sauce.  To guard against the formation of botulism toxin, canned foods are heated during processing to kill the bacteria.  A cooker on the malfunctioning line was dropping cans into cool water before they were ready.

The Castleberry’s botulism outbreak was only one of a string of commercial food poisoning cases to plague the country this year.  In February, the FDA ordered a recall of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter after they were tied to an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning.  So far, more than 600 cases of illness have been tied to the contaminated peanut butter.  The source of the contamination was traced to a ConAgra Foods factory in Sylvester, Georgia.  In June, the FDA ordered a recall of Veggie Booty Snack Mix, a popular children’s treat, after more than 100 people became ill with Salmonella poisoning.   And just last week, the Dole Food Company recalled one of its bagged salad mixes for E. coli contamination.   


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