08/03/07 — Health officials look for tainted cans

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Health officials look for tainted cans

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 3, 2007 1:45 PM

Local health officials are responding to a nationwide recall of canned products associated with an outbreak of botulism, alerting businesses and the public to check pantries and dispose of any items that may be contaminated.

Environmental Health staff spent most of Thursday canvassing the county in an effort to identify canned foods involved in the recall.

"We're mobilizing. The staff is going to be out in the field going to mini-marts and non-chain grocery stores to see if the products are on the shelves, and tell residents what they should look for," said James Roosen, health director.

The nationwide effort was announced earlier this week by Center for Disease Control along with public health officials in Indiana and Texas, where reports of two cases of botulism in each state had been reported. Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness associated with bacteria produced in food.

In all four cases, people were reported to have consumed Castleberry's brand hot dog chili sauce. But products distributed under other brand names, including some canned dog food, may surprise some.

Worth Heath, food and lodging program coordinator with Environmental Health, said there is a "long list of brands of chili, beef stew, hashes," as many as 80, included in the recall, among them well-known Bunker Hill, Food Lion and Kroger brands. A complete list can be found on the Web site www.castleberrys.com.

The scope of the problem, though, goes beyond store shelves, Roosen said.

"Everyone should inventory their pantries to see if there are any recalled products in their home," he said. "Homeowners should be especially vigilant if they have any leaking or swollen cans."

The public is advised to dispose of any contaminated food. It is also unsafe for pets and animals.

In addition, Roosen said, canned food items collected and distributed by other means are a concern. With a spate of groups and organizations collecting canned goods to distribute to the needy, that required staff to expand its list of stops.

"We're trying to get notice out to day cares, child care centers, churches, food banks," he said.

Although the Health Department doesn't regulate some of the smaller child care sites, especially those with fewer than five children, Heath said a visit to check pantries and kitchens seemed warranted to ensure safety.

Kevin Whitley, director of environmental health, said his staff was instructed to "head to all the convenience stores that may have carried the products -- rest homes, all the day cares, campgrounds that may have some of the chilis.

"We're going to verify if they even have the products, count the number of cans they have and then talk to them on how to dispose of it. Small stores, mom and pop stores, will just have to dispose of it, but if they bought it from a vendor, they can probably get a credit."

Late Thursday, Whitley said several cans had been found on some shelves but were promptly removed after notification.

At Rosewood Food Liner, 17 cans of chili had already been taken off the shelves by the time Heath arrived and were placed in a storage box labeled "not for sale." An employee said two other state officials had been in earlier this week covering the recall.

After placing a consumer alert notice in the storefront window, which included a telephone number to call, Heath said the canvass was a good exercise.

Although no cases have been reported in North Carolina, Roosen warned residents to be alert to the problem.

Symptoms, according to the Web site healthline.com, usually appear between eight and 36 hours of consuming contaminated food. Symptoms include possible nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, difficulty swallowing, progressive weakness and double vision.