Bay Valley Foods, LLC, just recalled chunky steak soup sold under the Stater Bros. brand name; the reason given, as can be seen in the USDA-FSIS recall notice, is the company’s concern that the product was “underprocessed” during production. Bay Valley should be commended for taking the necessary unilateral step of recalling its “underprocessed” product; but it’s important for consumers to know that the real concern with low-acid, thermally processed foods like this soup being “underprocessed” is botulism.
Botulism is a nasty bug. It produces a potent neuro-toxin that causes paralysis. It has produced some of the most gruesome illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths of all clients at Marler Clark.
But botulism (i.e. the bacteria from which the toxins are produced) is also extremely prevalent in the environment. It is a naturally occuring bacteria in the earth; in fact, if you were to go outside and pick up a handful of dirt from your backyard garden, you’d likely be picking up a bunch of botulism spores as well. These are not harmful unless they are allowed to incubate at the right temperature for the right period of time, but they are there nonetheless.
To bring me back to the point with respect to the Stater Bros soup recall, the real risk here is that botulism spores in the low-acid, hermetically sealed soup containers might germinate and begin to produce the harmful botulism toxins. The soup contains lots of vegetables, and lots of the vegetables probably came from dirt that contained lots of botulism spores.
Thus, Bay Valley Foods/Stater brothers, should be commended for recalling the potentially contaminated (or “underprocessed”) soup. But it is equally important for consumers of this product to know the risks they face. It’s not that your beef might be a little undercooked, or the carrots a little hard. It’s botulism.