FDA Sends Letter to Canned Food Processors About Risk of Botulism

The FDA has recently posted a letter on their website which was sent several months ago to the canned food industry, warning about the risk of botulism which can develop from under-processed food products.

The letter, which is dated December 21, 2007, was sent to highlight several recalls issued last year as a result of under-processed canned foods and to make members of the low acid canned food (LACF) industry aware of the serious public health risk posed by food poisoning which can result from manufacturing problems.

During commercial canning of food, the cans are supposed to be heated long enough and at high enough temperatures to kill spores which could develop and grow. Manufacturing failures which result in the under-processing of canned food products can allow the survival and growth of the C. botulinum toxin, which thrives inside the sealed container. This poisonous toxin can lead to a serious and potentially fatal form of food poisoning, known as Botulism, if the food is consumed, inhaled or absorbed through the eyes or skin.

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Botulism causes muscle paralysis,and can result in blurred or double vision, difficulty swallowing and breathing, dizziness, nausea, slurred speech and weakness. When the toxin enters the body, it binds to nerve endings, blocking signals which leads to paralysis. Symptoms of botulism usually appear within 12 to 36 hours after exposure, but problems could develop in as little as two hours in some cases.

Over the past thirty years, canned foods manufactured commercially have rarely, if ever been contaminated with botulinum bacteria. However, last year manufacturing problems led to several canned food recalls due to a risk of botulism. In July 2007, tens of millions of cans of chili, beef stew, corned beef hash and other meet products were recalled by Castleberry Food Company after cans produced at their Augusta, Georgia plant were not properly heated. In August 2007, Lakeside Foods, Inc. recalled cans of French cut green beans which were found to be contaminated with the C. botulinum bacteria.

In the letter, the FDA also outlined several actions which they urged the canned food industry to implement to reduce the risk of canned food contamination and avoid potentially life threatening botulism food poisoning. Some of recommendations included:

  • A competent process authority should review any change in venting, steam supply, plumbing, or spreader configuration of a retort before it comes under operation. Firms should also update all temperature distribution studies.
  • The cause of spoilage must be investigated immediately and timely remedial measures should be taken.
  • Firms should ensure thorough evaluation of process deviations and provision of records upon request during an FDA inspection.

The FDA has also cautioned canned food processors to critically inspect their operations and ensure delivery of a safe product to the consumer. Field investigators have begun to focus on the preventive measures while conducting routine inspections.


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