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Factory at center of summer botulism outbreak in hot dog chili sauce reopens

ATLANTA (AP) — A factory at the center of a summer botulism outbreak in cans of hot dog chili sauce is set to reopen on Tuesday, company officials said.

Castleberry’s Food Co. said it would resume production at its Augusta, Ga. factory, nearly two months after it was shut down over a national botulism outbreak tied to cans of Castleberry’s hot dog chili sauce.

The company was green-lighted to reopen the factory last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Dave Melbourne, a senior vice president at the company, in a prepared statement.

However, one of the production lines that made the chili sauce will not be placed into operation yet, the company said. ‘‘The investigation conducted by Castleberry’s and by the regulatory agencies determined that mechanical issues with one processing system were the cause of any contamination,’’ Melbourne said, but did not elaborate.

For the time being, the hot dog chili sauce will be produced by a contractor at another location, he said.

In July, health officials said four people became severely ill from botulism after eating canned hot dog chili sauce made by Castleberry’s. By late August, the count had risen to eight — two in Indiana, three in Texas and three in Ohio.

Also in July, Castleberry’s announced a massive recall that ultimately included more than 90 potentially contaminated products, including its chili sauces.

The factory was closed July 21 in conjunction with the recall. Now, 425 workers have been called back to work.

‘‘Castleberry’s deeply appreciates the understanding and support of our employees and the citizens of Augusta during the difficulties of the last two months,’’ said Bob Bowen, the company’s human resources director, in a prepared statement.

Company officials have said that in May they noted a problem with the production line that makes hot dog chili sauce.

Cans were coming out of a heating and sterilizing process too hot before going into a cooling canal. Company officials stopped production because they wanted to make sure cans had not expanded and possibly allowed contamination.

Cans were tested at the time, however, and no problem was found. FDA investigators later said they believe the company failed to properly cook some or all the products, allowing the Clostridium botulinum bacteria to survive.

The bacteria produce a toxin that causes botulism, a muscle-paralyzing disease.

Castleberry’s is owned by Bumble Bee Seafoods LLC, based in San Diego.

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