Four people were hospitalized. The warning applies to 10-ounce cans of Castleberry's, Austex and Kroger brands of hot dog chili sauce with "best by" dates from April 30, 2009, through May 22, 2009, the Food and Drug Administration said. It wasn't immediately clear how widely the products were distributed.
The contamination by the toxin is extremely rare for a commercially canned product. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention medical epidemiologist Dr. Michael Lynch said the last such U.S. case dates to the 1970s. The roughly 25 cases reported each year typically involved home-canned foods, Lynch said.
The victims — two each in Texas and Indiana — were seriously ill but expected to survive. The Texas cases involved children who are siblings. The Indiana cases involved an adult couple. No other details were available.
The products were made by the Castleberry's Food Co., owned by Bumble Bee Seafoods LLC, based in San Diego.
"We are taking the recall as a precautionary measure until we fully understand the facts of these cases and determine the cause of any contamination," Dave Melbourne, Castleberry senior vice president of marketing, said in a statement.
FDA has sent experts to the Castleberry's plant in Augusta, Ga., where the products were canned, said Robert Brackett, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The company is voluntarily recalling all potentially contaminated product and is cooperating with state and federal officials, Brackett added.
Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum, according to the CDC.
Brackett urged consumers to discard any of the recalled cans without opening them.
"The toxin is so potent if they get it on their hands or it sprays in their face, it could make them ill," he said.
Typically, commercially canned foods are heated long enough and to high enough temperatures to kill the spores.
"It's been a triumph of food safety that canning is safe. That's what makes this so unusual," Lynch said.
Symptoms of botulism include double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth and muscle weakness that moves down the body, according to the CDC.
Eventually, paralysis can cause a person to stop breathing and die, unless supported by a ventilator. Most victims eventually recover after weeks to months of care.
The recall covers the following universal product codes:
Consumers with questions may call the company toll-free at 888-203-8446.