1971 Bon Vivant botulism case
The 1971 Bon Vivant botulism case was one of the few cases of foodborne botulism to occur from commercial food processing.
On July 2, 1971, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a public warning after learning that a Westchester County, New York man had died and his wife had become seriously ill from botulism after partly eating a can of Bon Vivant vichyssoise soup. A family in Dobbs Ferry, NY, reported to the CDC that they had dined on Bon Vivant vichyssoise at home only hours before the news broke. They were especially concerned because they had spoon-fed a few sips to their son, Christopher Farrell Wilson, who had just turned two years old the month before. Fortunately, in spite of the terrifying batch number they later found stamped on the can they had consumed, they did not become ill.
The company began a recall of the 6,444 cans of vichyssoise soup made in the same batch as the can known to be contaminated. The FDA then discovered that the company’s processing practices made questionable all products packed by the company. The FDA extended the recall to include all Bon Vivant products. The FDA ordered the shutdown of the company’s Newark, New Jersey, plant on July 7, 1971. Five cans of soup out of 324 were found to be contaminated with botulinum toxin, all in the initial batch of vichyssoise recalled.
The recall destroyed public confidence in the Bon Vivant name. Since Bon Vivant also marketed some of its production as store brands, this led many people to be suspicious of any soup on grocery store shelves. The company filed for bankruptcy within a month of the start of the recall. It changed its business name to Moore & Co.
The FDA resolved to destroy the company's stock of canned soup. Moore & Co. fought this proposed action in court until 1974.
- Lyons, Patrick J. (October 5, 2007). "In a Beef Packager’s Demise, a Whiff of Vichyssoise.". The New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2007.
- "Botulism Death in Westchester Brings Hunt for Soup". New York Times. July 2, 1971. "The death of a Westchester County man Wednesday night, apparently from botulism, and the serious illness of his wife has precipitated a nationwide search for 6,444 cans of vichyssoise marketed under the Bon Vivant label."
- "An Examination of FDA’s Recall Authority". Harvard Law School. Retrieved September 25, 2007. "The incident did not take a toll only on the company, however. Bon Vivant did not have adequate records and controls of production lots and distribution in order to trace the products quickly. The company also did not have the finances or manpower necessary to run a successful recall program. As a result, the FDA had to seize all the Bon Vivant soup throughout the country, more than a million cans in all. FDA said the seizure occupied 125 man years of FDA time, enough for 2,000 ordinary factory inspections for preventive purposes. After some squabbling in the courts, where the owner of the company sought to recover the seized cans for resale under the company’s new name, “Moore & Co.,” the soup was eventually incinerated, at the cost of nearly $150,000 to the federal government. As for Moore & Co., it appears the resurrection of the company was short-lived."
- Joan Cook (June 14, 1974). "Bon Vivant yields on Dumping Soup. Bankrupt Canner Cites Cost of Long U.S. Suit and Age of Stocks Seized in 1971. Cans to Be Buried.". New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2007.