FDA warns of possible link between botulism and chili sauce

Jul 20, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Four people from Texas and Indiana were recently hospitalized with suspected botulism poisoning after they consumed hot dog chili sauce that may have been contaminated, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced yesterday.

The brands include 10-oz cans of Castleberry's, Austex, and Kroger hot dog chili sauce with "best by" dates between Apr 20, 2009 and May 22, 2009, the FDA said in a press release. The products were made by Castleberry Food Company, based in Augusta, Ga., which has voluntarily recalled the possibly contaminated products.

The patients include two children in Texas and a couple from Indiana who became seriously ill after eating the chili sauce. FDA officials gave no other information about them.

Botulinum toxin is a nerve poison produced by Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium commonly found in soil. Botulism symptoms include double or blurred vision, droopy eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If the illness is not treated, it can progress to paralysis of the limbs, trunk, and breathing muscles.

People who have the implicated products should throw them away, and anyone who shows these symptoms and may have recently eaten one of the recalled brands should seek immediate medical attention, the FDA said.

The CDC said it receives about 110 reports of botulism each year, of which about 25% are foodborne. Outbreaks of foodborne botulism typically involve two or more people and are usually caused by contaminated home-canned foods.

Botulism cases linked to commercially canned foods are rare, CDC medical epidemiologist Michael Lynch told the Associated Press (AP) today. He said the last such incident in the United States dates back to the 1970s.

Last fall, six people from Georgia, Florida, and Toronto contracted botulism after drinking carrot juice produced by a California company. FDA officials said though product was pasteurized it could have become contaminated if it was not properly refrigerated.

Federal and state investigations are under way to determine the cause of the chili sauce contamination and how widely the products were distributed, the FDA statement said.

Other outbreaks
In other food outbreak news, officials from the Chicago Department of Health (CDH) are investigating a Salmonella outbreak linked to a food both at the Taste of Chicago festival, which ended on Jul 8. The CDH said that as of yesterday it had received 678 reports of people who said they became ill after eating food from the Pars Cover Persian Cuisine booth.

Of 85 confirmed salmonellosis cases reported so far, 47 have been identified as Salmonella enterica Heidelberg, one of the more common serotypes in the United States, the CDH said. Twenty-five people have been hospitalized.

The confirmed illness outbreak is the first associated with the Taste of Chicago event in 20 years, the CDH said. "In the larger context of having safely served tens of millions of people in recent years, the Taste remains quite possibly the safest food service operation in the city," the CDH said.

So far officials have identified only one source of bacterial contamination—a dish of herbs, tomato, and cucumber called hummus shirazi, the Chicago Tribune reported on Jul 14.

Meanwhile, Colorado health officials are investigating an outbreak of Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) linked to food served at the Jefferson County jail in Golden, Colo., that has sickened 70 inmates.

Laboratory results from patient samples confirmed the presence of the E coli, but further tests are being done to determine the exact strain, Mark Johnson, executive director of the Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE), said in a Jul 11 sheriff's department press release.

Officials still don't know what food was contaminated or how it became contaminated, Gayle Miller, an epidemiologist for the JCDHE, said in the press release. "We will be conducting a wide range of concurrent activities, including testing samples of food eaten by ill inmates, testing specimens collected, review of food handling procedures, and interviewing inmates about foods ingested," she said.

See also:

Jul 18 FDA press release

CDC information on botulism

CIDRAP overview of botulism

Sep 18, 2006 CIDRAP News article "Carrot juice cited in 2 botulism cases in Canada"

Jul 11 Jefferson County Sheriff's Department press release

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