June 2008

The first botulism outbreak caused by commercial canning in 33 years was due to both mechanical and management problems at Castleberry’s Chili, USA Today reports.

The newspaper said a U.S. Food & Drug Administration Report obtained from a congressional committee says Castleberry’s had two 10-foot-tall cookers may not have heated cans enough to kill all bacteria, including those leading to botulism toxin.

According to the report, the cookers had broken alarms, a leaky valve and an inaccurate temperature device.  The cookers in the Augusta, Ga., plant showed "poor maintenance," and management failed to "correct ongoing deficiencies" in the plant, the report said.

"Failure in management was ultimately the reason for the … botulism toxin in the cans," according to the report. 

The story by USA Today’s Julie Schmit said FDA stepped up its inspections of canning facilities after the Castleberry’s outbreak.   She writes:

In late November, the FDA began inspecting the New Era Canning plant in Michigan, where it discovered botulism spores, a precursor to the toxin, in cans of green and garbanzo beans. No illnesses were reported. New Era recalled 1.2 million cans of vegetables because of the risk.

The recalls worried FDA and industry officials. Botulism toxin — so deadly that it’s feared as a bio-terror weapon — had been virtually eradicated in the canning industry for decades through time-tested manufacturing processes. The FDA feared some plants had slipped into lax practices that led to botulism-prevention regulations in 1973. On Dec. 21, the day of New Era’s recall, the FDA sent a letter warning canneries to "not become complacent."

Donald Zink, a senior FDA food scientist, says a refocus on good manufacturing practices is needed.  "Probably, we’ve suffered from being too successful," he said in an interview. "Maybe some have gotten a little sloppy."

Sounds to us like FDA management shares in that responsibility.   See what you think by reading the rest of the story here.

We are waiting for the first sickness and death from Tipu’s Tiger Chai Concentrate because it may be taited with Clostridium botulinum.   The product was recalled Tuesday by Tipu’s Tiger Chai of Missoula, MT.

Consumers are warned not to use the product even if it does not look or smell spoiled as the bacterium can cause life-threatening illness or death.

Botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning, can cause the following symptoms: 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 after consuming this product should seek immediate medical attention.

Tipu’s Tiger Chai Concentrate was distributed, primarily to stores and coffee kiosks in western Montana and one café in Prescott, Arizona using the concentrate for mixed beverages sold on-site. Limited distribution of the bottled product was made directly to consumers in Western Montana.

For more information, go here.

Four-month old Nicholas Jameson of Minneapolis is going to continue growing up thanks to his quick-acting Mom, Samantha, and expert medical care.  Botulism nearly took his young life.

Over Memorial Day, Nicholas was having trouble breathing and Samantha took him immediately to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis for apparent respiratory failure.   The next day, however, doctors at Children’s diagnosed Nicholas with botulism.

Fox9, the Fox TV affiliate in the Twin Cities told the happy-ending story:

A week later, Nicholas had made a miraculous recovery. Dr. Ken Maslonka, the head of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unity at Children’s, was surprised. "He came off the ventilator much faster than any of us thought he would for sure."

The family is still trying to figure out where Nicholas could have caught the bacteria. The only explanation seems to be the backyard where the family had been gardening days before. Botulism spores can live in soil.

Samantha is unsure how it may have happened, because Nicholas wasn’t playing in the dirt. But she theorizes that the bacteria may have become airborne while she was digging and Nicholas may have ingested it.

Doctors say the family’s fast reaction is what saved Nicholas’ life.

You can find the Fox9 story here.