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Chilly Sauce Linked to Botulism, Forcing Recall in US

This time a product recall in US without a Chinese link. Following reports of botulism outbreak, hot dog chilly sauce manufactured in a Georgia facility are being withdrawn in USA.

This is the first outbreak of botulism from commercially canned foods in nearly four decades.

Health officials asked consumers and stores to discard 10-ounce cans of some leading brands like Castleberry's, Kroger and Austex .

Two Texas children and an Indiana couple were hospitalized with botulism in late June and earlier this month.

Investigators traced the sickness of the Texas siblings, ages 12 and 13, to a June 28 meal of hot dogs slathered with chili sauce. Investigators believe the husband and wife in Indiana got sick from a July 5 meal that included chili sauce and baked potatoes.

All four of the patients became seriously ill and had to be placed on ventilators, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Symptoms of botulism can include blurred vision, drooping eyelids, muscle weakness, slurred speech and difficulty swallowing. If not treated quickly with antitoxin, botulism can paralyze breathing muscles, and victims could spend months on ventilators until the toxin wears off.

Botulism is rare. The paralyzing illness can leave victims hospitalized for months and is fatal in about 8 percent of cases. Fewer than 30 cases a year are linked to food, and those illnesses are most often associated with home canning.

The bacteria clostridium botulinum is commonly found in soil and can produce nerve toxins under certain conditions. Botulinum toxin has become so rare in canned foods that Americans may be more familiar with it in a much-diluted form, as the anti-wrinkle treatment Botox, which works by temporarily paralyzing facial muscles.

To guard against toxins forming in food, canned goods are heated during processing to kill bacteria spores. If food is not processed correctly, spores could survive.

In a canned product kept at room temperature, the conditions would then be right for those spores to produce toxins, says Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia in Griffin.

Castleberry's has recalled 10 varieties of canned foods, from chili sauce and corned beef hash to barbecued pork, with "best-by" dates of April 30, 2009 through May 22, 2009. The products were shipped to retailers in 23 states, including Georgia. Consumers have been advised to throw away the cans and any food that might have been prepared with the chili sauce.

About 20,000 cases _ or more than 300,000 cans _ were recalled from 22 states, mostly in the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest, said Dave Melbourne, Castleberry's senior vice president of marketing.

However, he said the botulism cases had not been confirmed as linked to its products, and that the company issued the recall only as a precaution.

The recall covers products processed on a cooker that wasn't working properly, he explained.

The cooker, called a retort, was dropping cans into cooling water while they were still very hot, he said. The company followed standard operating procedures to check products before distributing them.

"Everything came back confirming the product was safe and fine," Melbourne said. "We haven't confirmed that is in fact the issue, but that's something we're digging deeper into, because it coincides with this particular date."

Castleberry's is owned by Bumble Bee Seafoods of San Diego, Calif. It processes canned foods, such as beef stew, soups, hash and barbecue, under such brand names as Sweet Sue's, Bryan Meats and Castleberry's. It also makes store-brand products for clients that include Kroger.

The supermarket has removed the recalled products from its shelves and consumers can return them for a refund, Kroger spokesman Glynn Jenkins said. Castleberry's is advising consumers to bring product labels to retailers for a refund, and to discard the cans.

The cases were linked through OutbreakNet, a public health network that looks for patterns of food-borne or waterborne illness. CDC lab workers started testing 12 suspect foods for botulinum toxin on July 11, and got preliminary results Monday that implicated the chili sauce. CDC workers contacted the FDA, which worked with Castleberry's to issue a voluntary recall Wednesday evening.

"We consider botulism to be a public health emergency," says Dr. Susan Lance, Georgias state epidemiologist. "It can be so serious and affect so many people, especially if a commercial product is involved."


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