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Factory That Made Botulism-Tainted Hot Dog Chili Sauce Reopened by Castleberry's Food Company

Sep 19, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP
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The Castleberry’s Food Company plant that was responsible for an outbreak of botulism poisoning this summer reopened yesterday.   In July, four people in Texas and Indian became ill after eating Castleberry’s botulism-tainted hot dog chili sauces.    The chili sauce botulism outbreak ultimately forced Castleberry’s to recall over 90 varieties of canned products manufactured by its Augusta, Georgia plant.

Castleberry’s Food said that the Food & Drug Administration had told the company that it could reopen the plant.   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.  While 400 Castleberry’s employees were able to report to work yesterday, the company said that the production line responsible for the botulism contamination would remain closed.   The hot dog chili sauce will be produced by a contractor at another plant.

Castleberry’s made news after two children from Texas and an Indiana couple were hospitalized earlier this summer with botulism.  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.  Botulism had become so rare that most people know it only as a wrinkle reducer called Botox.   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 opening of the plant was welcome news for workers.   The Castleberry factory is located in one of Augusta’s more underprivileged neighborhoods, and was one of the few sources of well paying jobs in the community.   There had been some uncertainty early in the shutdown about the plant’s possible reopening.

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 this week, the Dole Food Company recalled one of its bagged salad mixes for E. coli contamination.   Ironically, that recall came almost exactly one year after Dole recalled fresh bagged spinach that caused an E. coli outbreak that sickened 200 people and killed three.
 

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