Management problems cited in botulism case

Julie Schmit reports in USA Today today that,

Last July, Food and Drug Administration officials issued a rare warning to U.S. consumers: Botulism toxin was suspected in hot dog chili sauce made by Castleberry’s Food.

The botulism outbreak, which would eventually sicken eight and lead to a recall of tens of millions of cans of food, was the first in a U.S.-made canned food in 33 years.

The day before the warning, FDA investigators had begun an inspection at a Castleberry’s plant that set off alarms within the agency.

A previously undisclosed report from FDA that USA TODAY obtained from a congressional committee concluded:

• two 10-foot-tall cookers may not have heated cans enough to kill all bacteria, including those leading to botulism toxin;

• the cookers had broken alarms, a leaky valve and an inaccurate temperature device;

• the FDA criticized Castleberry’s for failing to correct problems, but those problems went undetected by FDA inspectors at the plant five months before the outbreak and by Department of Agriculture inspectors who were in the plant weekly; and,

• the cookers in the Augusta, Ga., plant showed "poor maintenance," and management failed to "correct ongoing deficiencies" in the plant. "Failure in management was ultimately the reason for the … botulinum toxin in the cans," according to the report.

Donald Zink, a senior FDA food scientist, says in the story,

"When you have a firm that fails so badly that they produce cans with Clostridium botulinum … there are invariably multiple process failures, multiple violations … and failed management systems.”