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New Era Canning Receives Approval to Reopen and Restart Production Following Three Recalls

Jul 1, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The New Era Canning Company, which was shut down by the federal government since December for repeated recalls of canned produce over possible botulism contamination, just received approval to reopen and restart production by securing a temporary emergency permit.  The permit allows the company to begin shipping some of its current stock of canned produce and restart production, although that isn't likely to begin until later this summer.

New Era’s first recall in December involved 171 cases of institution-size cans of green beans after results from a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection showed the potential for botulism contamination.  A test sample showed a “presumptive positive” result for clostridium botulinum bacterium spores.  Under certain conditions, the spores have the potential to produce a toxin that causes botulism.

New Era produces canned produce for both the private label industry and its own labeled products.  By following some necessary inspection steps, the cans of retail product could be shipped soon, while cans for the food service industry await an agreed upon procedure to be released.  Regarding the permit, Rick McLouth, New Era’s chief financial officer said, "That was huge.  That's what we've been working for."  Rick Ray, New Era’s president and chief executive officer, is optimistic that his 98-year-old family owned business will be processing beans and other produce later this summer, but expressed frustration over how long the FDA kept New Era out of full commission.  Recalls involved cans of beans, peas, and asparagus in December, January, and February.

Ray said officials determined that the botulism bacterium originated from a cracked water line that allowed soil to get in the water, contaminating some of the product.  New Era Canning has since repaired the plant's water system, which includes four on-site water wells.  New Era must still meet two provisions included in the permit:  To receive Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approval of work completed on the water system, the source of the bacterium problem and allow the FDA to test the water.  New Era said the FDA shutdown produced multi-million-dollar losses and they have been meeting with potential investors, as funding is needed to resume production.

Clostridium botulinum is a rare, serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin.  Classic symptoms include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness.  Symptoms can occur as early as six hours or as late as 10 days after ingestion or exposure to tainted food.  

Botulism bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments, which is what is found in a can of food.  As bacteria reproduce inside a can, gasses emit and the building pressure can cause the can to rupture.  Clostridium botulinum can grow in canned foods not properly heated during processing; creating the nerve toxin that can be fatal if left untreated.   Unlike other food borne pathogens, botulism toxins can be absorbed through the skin and even inhaled, which means people who never ate the contaminated product could be at risk, a serious concern with contaminated food in cans that can rupture and releasing toxins into the air.


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