WASHINGTON - Botulism poisoning from commercially canned foods has been virtually eliminated in the United States, making the new cases linked to hot dog chili sauce all the more striking.
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration, Agriculture Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were investigating a Castleberry's Food Co. plant in Augusta, Ga., where the suspect product was canned. Four people have been hospitalized; they are expected to survive.
Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by a bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. Such bacteria are commonly found in soil.
Typically, commercially canned foods are heated long enough and to high enough temperatures to kill the spores that otherwise can grow and produce the toxin. If canned foods are underprocessed, the bacteria can thrive in the oxygen-poor environment inside the sealed containers.
Food packaged in defective cans, including those with leaky seams, also can become contaminated because the bacteria can be sucked into the containers as the product cools, according to health officials. Contamination can cause the lid to bulge.
Each year, the CDC records roughly 25 cases of foodborne botulism poisoning. Most involve home-canned foods.
The FDA warned consumers to throw away 10-ounce cans of Castleberry's, Austex and Kroger brands of hot dog chili sauce with "best by" dates from April 30, 2009, through May 22, 2009. Castleberry's, owned by Bumble Bee Seafoods LLC, has recalled the products flagged by the FDA and seven others. For more, visit www.castleberrys.com.