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.