February 2008

Dried fish from China that were sold in New York State are being recalled because of possible botulism contamination.   The U.S. Food & Drug Administration today (2/26/08) issued this press release from the importer:

Summit Import Corp. 100 Summit Place, Jersey City, NJ 07305 is recalling all packages of Sum Cheong Lung brand Dried Fish discovered by New York State Dept. of Agriculture and Markets Food Inspectors during a routine inspection and subsequent analysis of the product by Food Laboratory personnel confirming that the fish had not been eviscerated prior to processing.

This product may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause Botulism, a serious and potentially fatal food-borne illness.

The sale of this type of fish is prohibited under New York State Agriculture and Markets regulations because Clostridium botulinum spores are more likely to be concentrated in the viscera than any other portion of the fish. Uneviscerated fish has been linked to outbreaks of botulism poisoning. Symptoms of botulism include blurred or double vision, general weakness, poor reflexes, difficulty swallowing and respiratory paralysis.

The recalled Sum Cheong Lung brand Dried Fish comes in an uncoded 12 oz. plastic bag and is a product of China. Dried Fish was sold in New York State.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem. Consumers who have Sun Cheong Lung brand Dried Fish are advised not to eat it, but should return it to the place of purchase. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 201-839-2882.

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 We said the Main Stream Media would be catching up with the "Bill Marler Blog" and we were right. One of the first to step up and tell the story of a botulism victim who has now filed a lawsuit against Castleberry’s Chili is the Sandusky Register.  In the Ohio newspaper, reporter Cory Frolik writes:

Carl Ours Jr. won’t be eating Castleberry Food Co.’s chili again

The New London resident planned to file a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday or today.

The civil lawsuit claims he developed botulism after eating some of the company’s chili sauce in late June 2007.

Shortly after digging into a can of the chili on a camping trip, the 39-year-old man said he started having trouble chewing and swallowing food, and his muscles weakened.

The symptoms grew worse, and he was flown by helicopter to Cleveland Clinic, where he was diagnosed with the potentially fatal illness, a draft of the lawsuit states.

"He was in bad shape ," said his 72-year-old father, Carl Ours Sr. of Norwalk. "It was a life-or-death thing."

The rest of Frolik’s story can be found here.

Marler Blog, also known as Bill’s Blog, often breaks food illness news ahead of the Main Stream Media.  Written personally by Bill Marler, managing partner of the Seattle-based Marler Clark law firm, Marler Blog is in the best position in the nation when it comes to knowing what’s being done to advance the interests of victims of food-borne illness. 

Yesterday there was another example of this fact when Marler Blog reported:

A lawsuit was filed today against Castleberry’s Food Co., the company that recalled tens of millions of pounds of canned meat products sold under over 80 different labels after they were identified as the source of a botulism outbreak in July, 2007. The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on behalf of Carl Ours, a New London, Ohio resident who became ill with botulism poisoning after consuming Castleberry’s Chili Sauce in late June of 2007. Mr. Ours is represented by Marler Clark of Seattle and Murray & Murray of Sandusky, Ohio.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that he consumed Castleberry’s Chili Sauce on or about June 28, 2007, and began suffering from symptoms of botulism, including muscle weakness, inability of swallow, and choking while eating, on June 30. Mr. Ours’ symptoms worsened and within days he suffered weakness in his arms and legs that progressed until he had difficulty walking. He sought emergency treatment several times before being taken by “life-flight” helicopter to the Cleveland Clinic, where he was diagnosed with botulism poisoning. Mr. Ours was hospitalized from July 7 to August 3, and was then transferred to a nursing home to continue his recovery. He returned home on August 24, but continues to suffer physical injury as a result of his botulism illness.

Castleberry’s sold a product that was unsafe for human consumption and now owes a duty to its injured customers to compensate them for their injuries,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. “It’s only right for Castleberry’s to offer restitution for Mr. Ours’ physical, emotional, and financial losses. His medical expenses and lost wages alone total over $100,000.”

Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness that is caused by a nerve toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum. Symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. The illness can cause paralysis, respiratory failure, and death.

Marler added, “Without proper medical care, Mr. Ours and others who were part of the outbreak might not still be with us today.”

Watch the MSM, they wll catch up soon!

Unpasteurized carrot juice made by Bolthouse Farms was responsible for four cases of botulism in the United States and three in Canada in late 2006.  The Bakersfield, CA-based company dropped unpasteurized carrot juice from its product lineup after it caused the botulism outbreak.

The latest development is a lawsuit in Canada filed on behalf of Susanna Chen and her husband, Andy Valy.  Both nearly died after drinking the unpasteurized carrot juice in August 2006.   Ms. Chen drank the juice first, and was in the hospital when Mr. Valy drank the same product because he was not aware of what made his wife sick.

Both fell into comas and it weeks passed before health officials figured out they were dealing with deadly botulism poisoning.  Bolthouse Farms blames the couple for not keeping the juice cold enough.

The National Post reported that the couple’s lawyer sees it differently. The NP says:

"Michael Shannon, a lawyer representing the couple, disagrees. “They refrigerated the product, they just drank a toxic cocktail that they weren’t aware of.”  Mr. Shannon refused to disclose the amount the couple is suing for, except to say they will be launching a suit in the United States for pain and suffering.

Ms. Chen remains in a rehabilitation center and Mr. Valy was only discharged from the hospital in January.  Health officials say they had among the most severe botulism anyone has survived.

Go here for the complete NP story.

Beans, blackeyed peas,  and asparagus are among the vegetables canned under various labels by the New Era Canning Company, whicch is based in Michigan.  Oh, and they just may include some very deadly botulism in each can.

New Era’s recall has expanded and expanded again and again since this all began.   It now stretches back to include all its product back five years.   Its sufficiently complicated that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) sponsors a website to keep track of it all.

FDA’s New Era website can be found here.  If you buy your veggies in large cans, you better be checking the site and the long, long list of what’s on the recall.

For as much as this has to be costing New Era, so far the company has been very, very lucky as there have been no reports of anyone getting sick from its botulism-tainted cans.  FDA says:

C. botulinum produces the toxin that causes botulism and can cause life-threatening illness or death. The affected New Era products are large institutional-sized cans, weighing between six and seven pounds, of various types of beans, blackeye peas, and asparagus.

To date, no illnesses have been reported to the FDA. However, consumers should not consume these products, even if they appear to be normal, because of the potential serious risk to health. Consumers who have the affected products, or who have used them in recipes, should immediately throw the cans and food away.

The potentially contaminated products are marketed under ten different brand names:

  1. Classic Sysco
  2. Code
  3. Frosty Acres Restaurant’s Pride Preferred
  4. GFS
  5. Kitchen Essentials
  6. Monarch Heritage
  7. Necco
  8. New Era
  9. Nugget
  10. Reliance Sysco

Processors other than New Era may be packing these brands. Only products packed by New Era are subject to the recall, so individuals must check the lot numbers on the bottom of the cans to determine if the product is affected by the recall. 

Like we said, you better check the website.

Olivier brand Parmesan & Asiago Dip with Garlic & Basil was recently recalled by Olivier Olive Oil Products, Inc. of Saint Helena, California, for potential contamination with Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism.  The dip was distributed to Williams-Sonoma stores nationwide and to Olivier Napa Valley retail stores located in Truckee and St. Helena, California.

Recalled dip lot codes include:

* OPA 34171
* OPA 23471
* OAP 17271
* OAP 17671
* OAP 36061
* OAP 36161
* OPA 33961

The lot code appears on the side of the 11.76 ounce glass jar.

In its warning to consumers, the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) noted that Clostridium botulinum does not make the product smell or look different, and consumers are urged to throw out any dip in their possession.  In addition, CDHS stated:

Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium which can cause life-threatening illness or death. Symptoms of botulism include: general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking or swallowing. Difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distension and constipation may also be common symptoms. People experiencing these problems should seek immediate medical attention.

Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Clostridium botulinum is the name of a group of bacteria commonly found in soil. The bacteria are anaerobic, gram-positive, spore-forming rods that produce a potent neurotoxin. These rod-shaped organisms grow best in low oxygen conditions. The bacteria form spores that allow them to survive in a dormant state until exposed to conditions that can support their growth. The organism and its spores are widely distributed in nature. They occur in both cultivated and forest soils, bottom sediment of streams, lakes, and coastal waters, in the intestinal tracts of fish and mammals, and in the gills and viscera of crabs and other shellfish.

Foodborne botulism is a severe type of food poisoning caused by the ingestion of foods containing the potent neurotoxin formed during growth of the organism. The incidence of the disease is low, but the disease is of considerable concern because of its high mortality rate if not treated immediately and properly. Most of the 10 to 30 outbreaks that are reported annually in the United States are associated with inadequately processed, home-canned foods, but occasionally commercially produced foods are implicated as the source of outbreaks. Sausages, meat products, canned vegetables, and seafood products have been the most frequent vehicles for foodborne botulism.

Symptoms of Botulism

Classic symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. Infants with botulism appear lethargic, feed poorly, are constipated, and have a weak cry and poor muscle tone. These are all symptoms of the muscle paralysis caused by the bacterial toxin. If untreated, these symptoms may progress to cause paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk, and respiratory muscles. In foodborne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after consuming contaminated food, but they can occur as early as 6 hours or as late as 10 days after consumption.

Botulinum toxin causes flaccid paralysis by blocking motor nerve terminals at the myoneural junction. The flaccid paralysis progresses symmetrically downward, usually starting with the eyes and face, then moving to the throat, chest, and extremities. When the diaphragm and chest muscles become fully involved, respiration is inhibited and unless the patient receives treatment in time, death from asphyxia results.

Detection and Treatment of Botulism

Although botulism can be diagnosed by clinical symptoms alone, differentiation from other diseases may be difficult. The most direct and effective way to confirm the clinical diagnosis of botulism in the laboratory is to demonstrate the presence of toxin in the serum or feces of the patient or in the food the patient consumed. Currently, the most sensitive and widely used method for detecting toxin is the mouse neutralization test, which involves injecting serum or stool into mice and looking for signs of botulism. This test typically takes 48 hours. Culturing of specimens takes 5-7 days. Some cases of botulism may go undiagnosed because symptoms are transient or mild, or are misdiagnosed as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

If diagnosed early, foodborne botulism can be treated with an antitoxin that blocks the action of toxin circulating in the blood. This can prevent patients from worsening, but recovery still takes many weeks. Physicians may try to remove contaminated food still in the gut by inducing vomiting or using enemas.

While botulism has been known to cause death due to respiratory failure, in the past 50 years the proportion of patients with botulism who die has fallen from about 50% to 8%. The respiratory failure and paralysis that occur with severe botulism may require a patient to be on a ventilator for weeks, plus intensive medical and nursing care. After several weeks, the paralysis slowly improves.

Preventing Botulism

The types of foods implicated in botulism outbreaks vary according to food preservation and eating habits in different regions. Any food that is conducive to outgrowth and toxin production, that when processed allows spore survival, and is not subsequently heated before consumption, can be associated with botulism. Almost any type of food that is not very acidic (pH above 4.6) can support growth and toxin production by C. botulinum. Botulinal toxin has been demonstrated in a considerable variety of foods, such as canned corn, peppers, green beans, soups, beets, asparagus, mushrooms, ripe olives, spinach, tuna fish, chicken and chicken livers and liver pate, and luncheon meats, ham, sausage, stuffed eggplant, lobster, and smoked and salted fish.

Botulinum toxin is heat-labile, or unstable if heated to a certain temperature, and can be destroyed if heated and held at 80 degrees Centigrade (176 degrees Fahrenheit) for ten minutes or longer.