updated 7/31/2007 5:59:57 PM ET 2007-07-31T21:59:57

Amid a botulism outbreak, federal regulators released guidelines Tuesday outlining how food safety experts should inspect U.S. businesses that make, process and package food.

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While differences in state inspection practices can create inconsistencies in food safety oversight, state regulators are not required to adopt the guidelines, according to FDA.

The list of “best practices” from the Food and Drug Administration is aimed at standardizing safety inspections of food at the state level. The FDA’s new guidelines are the result of five years of discussions between federal and state officials.

The federal agency has been the target of pointed criticism the past year over its handling of food safety problems, ranging from E. coli-tainted spinach, salmonella-contaminated peanut butter and poisonous pet food imported from China.

The guidelines were released roughly a week after the FDA said cans of tainted chili are responsible for the first confirmed cases of botulism in U.S. canned foods in decades.

Four confirmed botulism cases of botulism have been reported — two from Indiana and two from Texas. But health officials in other states, including Hawaii and California, are investigating possible cases.

All four people consumed Hot Dog Chili Sauce Original, a product made by Castleberry’s. The government has issued warnings that consumers should immediately throw away more than 90 different products, from chili sauce to corned beef hash to dog food, produced at a Castleberry’s Food Co. plant and sold under a variety of brand names.

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by eating foods containing botulism toxin, a nerve toxin that can cause paralysis of the arms, breathing muscles and legs. Symptoms, such as blurred vision and slurred speech, generally start 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food.

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