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State says botulism outbreak is limited; FDA won’t talk

Federal officials won’t discuss it, but state officials doubled down Tuesday on their assertion that a botulism outbreak traced to a California gas station is likely contained.

Since late April 10 people have been confirmed with botulism poisoning. One of them, a 37-year-old father of two died. All nine remaining victims are hospitalized and on ventilators. A common symptom of botulism poisoning is paralysis, including paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

cheese sauce dispensers“This foodborne outbreak appears linked to jalapeño cheese sauce dispensed only at Valley Oak Food and Fuel in Walnut Grove, CA. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not have any evidence to suggest additional Jalapeño Cheese Sauce is contaminated,” according to a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon.

“CDPH and FDA continue to investigate this outbreak and are not aware of any additional botulism cases associated with the cheese sauce.”

A spokeswoman at FDA would not provide any information and would not confirm the agency was inspecting the Wisconsin production facility that made the cheese sauce or testing any of its products.

“This is an active investigation and we will provide information when we can,” was the only statement FDA would provide.

However, state officials in Wisconsin said the federal agency is investigating the situation and that product testing is underway. Gehl Foods LLC of Germantown, WI, produced the implicated cheese sauce. The company has state permits for dairy and processed foods.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture last inspected the Gehl Foods LLC dairy facility in December 2016. The state last inspected the Gehl’s food processing facility on April 4.

“To our knowledge, the plant is fully operational at this time,” according to a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin department.

“Due to its nationwide distribution (the cheese sauce), the lead agency for this particular outbreak is the FDA. The FDA investigation is still in progress and testing is still taking place. As a result, no recall has been initiated.”

Officials with Gehl Foods LLC have not responded to requests for comment. Monday the company posted a statement on its website denying responsibility. The site boasts that the company’s cheese sauce is served “a million times a day.”

Gehls cheese sauce“All of our products are manufactured according to strict federal and state food safety regulations, and are tested and inspected throughout the process. For shipping, our cheese products are tightly sealed to ensure they remain sterile and safe,” according to the company’s statement.

“Gehl’s facilities remain safe for food production and all of our food samples continue to test negative for any contaminants. There is no recall of Gehl’s nacho cheese product.”

The cheese sauce producer points to its instructions to its customers, seeming to suggest the gas station did not properly handle the cheese sauce.

“Once opened, we provide strict temperature guidelines for customers, according to the FDA’s food safety standards, and recommend disposing of any leftover cheese after five days to ensure product quality,” according to the Gehl Foods website.

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