A sickening end

Castleberry's was basically about canning stew and hash to be sold in grocery stores across the country. The 15th Street firm did a wonderful job of that for 82 years, establishing itself as a renowned business institution that did Augusta proud.

 

This is why it was an especially sad day Tuesday when the firm's owner announced Castleberry's would be closing up shop in two months. The loss is substantial. The firm is Richmond County's eighth-largest manufacturing employer. Its closure will ripple throughout the local economy, throwing more than 330 workers out of work and delivering a harsh hit on the tax rolls -- revenues the city and school system can ill afford to lose.

And as if all this isn't bad enough, Augusta also loses a piece of its rich history.

What went wrong? Company management, perhaps in an effort to boost efficiencies and make savings, apparently ended up cutting corners. Such mistakes in judgment can be fatal, especially in the unforgiving food industry.

Consider that if a restaurant's food makes you sick, you'll likely hesitate to go back there again -- and you'll probably advise your family and friends not to go either. If that word gets around enough, the restaurant will lose too many customers to stay in business. And so it is with Castleberry's.

The firm's Toronto-based owner, Connors Bros. Income Fund, said it could not find a buyer for the food products Castleberry makes, even though those same products will henceforth be made in New Jersey at a subsidiary of Hanover Foods Corp., a canned food giant that Connors Bros. found it could do business with.

Surely one of the reasons no buyer could be found is that Castleberry's had to close down for two months last year -- losing $38 million in revenues -- when botulism toxin was found in its chili sauce that apparently caused eight people to get sick in three states and a wrongful death suit to be filed. The federal Food and Drug Administration placed the blame for the contamination squarely on management.

The plant also had another three-week shutdown in March after federal inspection agencies pulled the firm's operating permits, citing operational deviations that caused the parent firm to lose another $700,000. Small wonder no buyer could be found. The word was out that Castleberry's was producing a food product that many people -- fairly or not -- felt could not be safely consumed.

The 330 or so employees who will be out of work deserved better than what they got. Hopefully, they will soon find jobs elsewhere -- and the company is to be commended for offering to help them to do just that.

Sadly, Castleberry's has come to an ignominious end, but let's not forget that for more than eight decades the company did its job well, free of any taint or scandal. That's a record to be proud of.

Not many businesses can stay up and running for that long, particularly in a business that is as competitive and fickle as the food industry.

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Sat, 08/19/2017 - 01:15

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