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Castleberry's Food Co. Plant Set to Reopen Soon

Mar 27, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Castleberry's Food Company says it plans to restart its Augusta, Georgia plant sometime this week, following a decision by federal regulators to suspend the plant's operating license earlier this month.  The Augusta plant was the same one that had shut down for more than two months last year, after canned foods made there were found to be contaminated with botulism toxin. 

In July, Castleberry's initiated a food recall after four cases of botulism poisoning were tied to Castleberry’s hot dog chili sauces. Tests had confirmed that two Texas children and an Indiana couple were suffering from botulism. All four of those victims had eaten one of Castleberry’s hot dog sauces. The recall was later expanded to include 80 types of sauces, beans, stew, chili, hash and pet foods produced at the company’s plant. The Castleberry’s hot dog chili sauce botulism outbreak was the first related to commercially canned foods in more than forty years.

Botulism 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. 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 Centers for Disease Control eventually confirmed 8 cases of botulism poisoning related to tainted Castleberry's products, and at least two of those victims have filed lawsuits against the company.

The Castleberry’s botulism contamination was traced to a malfunctioning production line at the company’s Augusta, Georgia plant. 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 Augusta plant was permitted to reopen in October.

Two weeks ago, the Castleberry's plant was forced to close again, after a February 27 inspection by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) revealed deviations in some equipment operation that could have resulted in undercooking of the meat. Because underprocessing caused the botulism outbreak, the plant's operating permit was suspended.

Senior Vice President Dave Melbourne said in a statement Monday that he was confident the Castleberry's plant would reopen Monday.  "We continue to work closely with the FDA and the USDA to reinstate our operating permit at our Augusta plant and hope to resume production early this week based on our current discussions with the agencies," Melbourne said.


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