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FDA recalls Lakeside beans, cites botulism fears

Health officials say there are no reports of product in Mass.

WASHINGTON -- Federal authorities yesterday made public a nationwide recall of roughly 360,000 cans of green beans because of fears they could be tainted with botulism toxin, which can cause life-threatening illness.

Lakeside Foods Inc., of Wisconsin, recalled 14.5-ounce cans of French Style green beans, which are marketed under such store names as Albertson's, IGA, Shop 'n Save, and Shoppers Value. The recall was the second in recent weeks by a major food processor and comes amid a congressional inquiry into how such bacterial contamination could occur. Cases of botulism -- the symptoms of which are slurred speech, blurred vision, and muscle weakness -- can result in death, though they are rare and mostly limited to people eating home-canned food.

While Massachusetts was not among the 20 states to receive Lakeside shipments directly, "there may have been secondary distribution channels" that permitted suspect cans of vegetables to reach the state. No affected product has been reported in Massachusetts, nor has anyone reported illness, "but we are still investigating," said Tom Lyons, a state Department of Public Health spokesman.

Consumers should be wary of cans with leaking fluid; such leaks can hint at organisms growing inside. The affected products have one of these label numbers at the top line of the can's code: EAA5247, EAA5257, EAA5267, EAA5277, EAB5247, EAB5257, ECA5207, ECA5217, ECA5227, ECA5297, ECB5207, ECB5217, ECB5227 or ECB5307. The Food and Drug Administration advised consumers to dispose of these products -- even if product codes needed for confirmation are missing.

Lakeside, which spotted the problem and alerted the FDA, said a manufacturing error affected a five-day production run in May.

The company routinely tests its finished product before cans are labeled and shipped, said Dave Aggen, vice president of quality assurance and product safety. The quality-control tests spotted cans lacking a "good" vacuum seal while they were still in the company's warehouse, he said.

Because of an equipment operation error, too many beans had been packed into cans. The cooking process is calibrated to the beans' weight and may have left some beans undercooked. In addition, subsequent lab analysis indicated some spoilage was because of fluid leaking from cans, Aggen said. None of the cans tested by Lakeside contained botulism, but, as a precautionary measure, the company issued the nationwide recall of 15,000 cases that had been shipped to stores.

"What happens if we missed one?" Aggen asked. He said the company decided to "take the precautionary step of just bringing it back and not let it be an issue."

The company action comes on the heels of US House investigators extending a food safety inquiry that has linked toxic spinach and peanut butter to a botulism contamination episode that led to the voluntary recall of canned human and dog food produced by Castleberry's Food Company of Augusta, Ga. At least two confirmed and two suspected botulism cases were linked to people eating the company's tainted Hot Dog Chili Sauce products.

In a related development, US Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is investigating food safety, yesterday proposed a bill that would strengthen the FDA's ability to better police the safety of imported food and drugs. Dingell wants to tap user fees to add FDA inspectors to increase examination and testing of imported food and drug shipments.

Diedtra Henderson can be reached at