SPOKANE - More than 1,000 tons of beef stew worth $1.5 million for low-income food programs must be destroyed following a warning by Washington state officials that some of the canned food showed signs of spoilage.
Samples from the 24-ounce cans of stew contained other disease-causing organisms but not botulism, which sickened at least four people and resulted in a nationwide recall of more than 90 commercial products made by Castleberry's Food Co. in Augusta, Ga., a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman told The Spokesman-Review newspaper Tuesday.
The testing was ordered after workers at a warehouse in Olympia reported in May that nearly 350 cases of stew included softened or swollen cans, the only such report from dozens of similar warehouses nationwide, said Jean Daniel, spokeswoman for USDA's Food and Nutrition Service.
Samples tested in a laboratory in California contained mold and anaerobic bacteria but no sign of the toxin that causes botulism, she said.
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"The problem was they were improperly sealed," Daniel said.
More than botulism must be considered, said Dong-Hyun Kang, an associate professor of food science at Washington State University.
"If we didn't find the botulism, is it safe? We can't say that because other anaerobic spores will be pathogens," Kang said.
The truckload of stew that was delivered to Olympia on May 9 included 1,000 cases for release around the state through the federal Commodity Supplemental Food Programs and Emergency Food Assistance Program, said Kimberley A. Eads, a manager for the state Department of General Administration.
It was part of an estimated $1.5 million federal contract with Castleberry's for more than 2 million pounds of stew, according to a report issued in February by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.
All of that stew was placed on hold in May and held in warehouses around the country, said Billy Cox, a spokesman for the program.
"It'll be destroyed," said Daniel. "We'd rather spend that than have anyone have a reaction."
Last month, a nationwide recall was issued for more than 90 products sold under 27 brands by Castleberry's, a division of Bumble Bee Foods LLC, after two children in Texas and a married couple in Indiana were hospitalized with botulism poisoning after eating Castleberry's hot dog chili sauce.
The recall covered 15-ounce cans of Castleberry's beef stew but not 24-ounce cans, which were processed on different lines at the plant in Augusta, Daniel said.
County food bank scrambles to ensure safety of delivered food
At the Thurston County Food Bank, more than a half-ton of high-protein food has been destroyed as part of a recall of beef stew and chili products.
Other foods on the list had been distributed, said food bank executive director Robert Coit. Workers are trying to get the word out to clients.
"There wasn't much we could do other than inform them," Coit said Wednesday. "Some was on hand, and we destroyed it."
The destroyed food included 52 cases - about 1,000 pounds - of chili that was dumped over a week's time. The food bank locked the Dumpster so people would not scavenge, Coit said.
The chili was purchased, and Coit hopes the food bank will get reimbursed. The stew was from federal programs. The total loss to the food bank was about $900.
Another problem is that people are donating the recalled products to the food bank. Food bank workers have added steps to the sorting process to eliminate the recalled foods.
The recall has created more demand for other high-protein foods, such as tuna fish and peanut butter, Coit said.