Billionaire Warren Buffett's love of ketchup and hash browns is transforming H.J. Heinz Co. into the most-leveraged food maker in America.

Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and 3G Capital Inc.'s $23 billion acquisition of Heinz may double the company's total debt to five times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to Fitch Ratings, the highest of any comparable food company. The cost to protect Heinz's debt from losses soared to a record after the announcement.

While Buffett has used takeovers to build Berkshire into a $249 billion company and burnish his reputation as the world's most successful investor, financing the deal with $14.1 billion in debt threatens to strip Heinz of the investment-grade rating that it's had for four decades. Fitch cut Heinz to junk on Feb. 15 and credit-default swaps imply a Ba1 rating, according to Moody's Corp.'s capital markets research group. That's two steps lower than its Baa2 rating from Moody's Investors Service and three below its BBB+ grade from Standard & Poor's.

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