Shocking Things that Can Cause Botulism (and How to Avoid It)
I have to admit, I was completely shocked when the headline, “One dead, 23 sick with Botulism symptoms after church potluck” popped up in my news feed.
Botulism seems so … archaic, right? You may have heard of it before, but it’s definitely not something that we see in the mainstream media every day. The biggest thing I remember about botulism is, as a child, my mom told me not to choose the dented cans at the grocery store.
But, was that even right?
What Is Botulism?
According to the CDC, botulism is caused mainly by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. The bacteria creates a nerve toxin that can cause serious illness and paralysis. Sometimes, it can even be fatal.
There are actually five different kinds of botulism — foodborne, infant, wound, adult intestinal toxemia and iatrogenic botulism. The one that we hear about most is foodborne botulism, which is what they are saying occurred at the church potluck dinner in the news story.
What Causes Foodborne Botulism?
Foodborne botulism is caused by eating foods contaminated with the Clostridium botulinum bacterium. This happens sometimes with canned foods from manufacturing plants, but can also occur when people are canning foods at home and not following proper canning methods.
Low-acid foods like green beans, mushrooms, corn, asparagus, beets, are the most susceptible to botulism growth.
And, yes, dented or rusted cans can cause botulism because the damage may allow for bacteria growth.
Botulism is rare, but serious, with the CDC reporting that only around 15% of the 145 cases each year being attributed to the foodborne type.
What are the Symptoms of Botulism?
Within 18 to 36 hours of eating contaminated food, people may experience some of the following symptoms of foodborne botulism:
- double vision
- blurred vision
- drooping eyelids
- slurred speech
- difficulty swallowing
- dry mouth
- muscle weakness
The CDC states that the symptoms “can occur as early as 6 hours or as late as 10 days.”
If untreated, botulism can cause paralysis of the limbs and also of the respiratory system.
How Do You Avoid Botulism Contamination?
- Closely follow proper canning methods, including the use of a pressure cooker, when preserving food at home.
- Don’t buy punctured, bulging, dented, rusted or even dirty canned goods at the store. (Dirty labels can indicate that there is a leak.)
- Pay special attention to the packaging on items you might not consider to be particularly susceptible like chopped garlic in oil, canned cheese sauce, canned chile peppers, canned tomatoes and carrot juice.
- Refrigerate oils infused with garlic or herbs.
- Keep baked potatoes wrapped and baked in aluminum foil hot until ready to serve.
- Don’t feed children under 12 months old honey. (Honey can contain bacteria that causes infant botulism.)
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