NEWS

Kathryn Rem: Throw out a questionable pantry items listed in recalls

Kathryn Rem

It took a few weeks, but I finally got around to checking the full recall list issued for canned hot-dog sauce and chili manufactured by Castleberry’s Food Co. Turns out, I had a can of the bad stuff sitting in my kitchen cupboard.

The Atlanta company’s initial voluntary recall on July 18 included 10 products. Three days later, the list was expanded to include corned beef hash, sausage gravy, beef stew and barbecued beef. In fact, the current recall list (www.castleberrys.com) includes more than 80 products sold under brand names such as Meijer, Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, Gold Star, Thrifty Maid, Value Time, Food Club and Steak n Shake.

That’s what I have — a 10-ounce can of Steak n Shake Chili With Beans, UPC number 5184400120.

Probably the can of chili I have is just fine. I bought three cans together and ate the first two some time ago. I’m still here, much to the consternation of readers I angered by suggesting the butter cow at the state fair be updated.

Castleberry’s said in a news release that the products on the expanded list were added as a precaution. There were two confirmed cases of botulism in people who ate hot-dog sauce, but no one got sick from the other products.

Sometimes I ignore tornado warnings. Once in awhile I’ll speed through a yellow light. But I’m not taking a chance with botulism, even if the risk is tiny.

“Botulism produces the deadliest toxin known to man,” said Jan Thomas, president of Safe Food Handlers, a New Berlin-based company that teaches food safety to restaurant and food-service managers.

“What’s so bad about it is that it attacks the nervous system. It paralyzes people,” she said.

Botulism is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The first symptoms are weakness, fatigue and dizziness. That’s followed by slurred speech, droopy eyelids, blurred or double vision, dry mouth, difficulty speaking or swallowing and — if it progresses untreated — muscle paralysis and death.

The incubation period usually is 18 to 36 hours, although symptoms can come on in as little as four hours or as many as eight days.

“Temperature abuse is the source of it,” Thomas said.

In the Castleberry’s case, it’s likely the tainted food wasn’t heated to the proper temperature before canning. The other products were added to the recall list on the unlikely chance there was cross contamination.

Foodborne botulism is the reason home canners need to be meticulous in their procedures, especially when canning foods — such as green beans and corn — with low acid content. But it’s not only canned foods that can develop the toxin. Prepared foods held at the wrong temperature can turn deadly as well.

In 1983, 28 people were infected with botulism after eating at a Peoria restaurant. Investigators found the cause was sauteed onions that were held on a warm stove below 140 degrees and not reheated before serving. The “danger zone,” where disease-causing microorganisms grow and multiply, is between 40 and 140 degrees. Don’t leave hot or cold foods in the danger zone more than two hours. If the air temperature is above 90 degrees, don’t leave them out more than an hour.

Botulism has been found in potatoes baked in aluminum foil and left out too long. (Either keep them hot until serving time or refrigerate them.) The nasty organisms also like anaerobic mediums, such as garlic-in-oil mixtures that aren’t acidified. (To be safe, refrigerate them.)

The botulism toxin can be destroyed by high temperatures, but why take a chance?

If you have any of the recalled products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends you double-bag them in sealed plastic bags and put them in the garbage. If any of the cans are swollen, bulging or leaking, put on gloves and eye protection before touching the cans. Use bleach to sanitize any surface the substance touched.

“Don’t open the can and don’t sniff it. Even a sniff or a spray could kill you,” Thomas cautioned.

Although my can of chili wasn’t bloated or oozing, I threw it away and will ask for a refund from Castleberry’s. A refund request form is on the Web site.

“This is something you just never want to take a chance with,” Thomas said.

State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

Kathryn Rem can be reached at kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.