N.C. authorities still finding food tainted with botulism

CHARLOTTE -- More than two weeks after a recall of canned food that may cause botulism, health inspectors across North Carolina are still finding hundreds of cans they say should have been destroyed.

On Friday, inspectors found 825 potentially tainted cans on shelves at 70 stores and other establishments -- including 53 cans at 11 sites in Mecklenburg.

Federal officials announced a recall July 19 of many canned products -- including chili, stew and dog food -- made by Castleberry's Food of Augusta, Ga., after four cases of botulism were reported in Texas and Indiana.

The recall prompted national chains to pull the cans off the shelves. But officials said many convenience stores and small stores apparently never learned about it, and they asked county health departments Thursday to inspect such stores to see if they still had cans.

"A lot of gas station convenience stores, a lot of mom-and-pops, small day cares and churches that have pantries," said Lynn Lathan, a county environmental health supervisor who helped track stores down Thursday and Friday. "We found people who were surprised about it because they were looking for only Castleberry's and Bunker Hill, and the list is huge."

Bunker Hill is another Castleberry's brand. Others on the 24-brand recall list include Austex, Bryan, Lowes and Piggly Wiggly.

Inspectors will continue to visit stores this weekend and into next week, said state Agriculture Department spokesman Brian Long. Stores where cans are found can surrender them, destroy them or ship them back to their food distributors, Long said.

"As long as they're off the shelves," he said. "That's the important thing."

State health officials had reported no cases of botulism by the end of the day.

Botulism is a rare but potentially fatal disease. It's caused by a bacterium that produces a nerve toxin, which affects the central nervous system. Initial symptoms can include muscle weakness, drooping eyelids and blurred vision.