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Botulism – Beware of Grandmas Home-Canned Green Beans
Every year in the United States there are about 150 cases of botulism with about 25 of them specifically caused by contaminated food. Food-borne botulism is severe intoxication caused by eating the preformed toxin present in contaminated food.
Foodborne botulism occurs when the bacterium Clostridium botulinum is allowed to grow and produce a toxin in food that is then eaten without sufficient heating or cooking to inactivate the toxin. Botulinum toxin is one of the most potent neurotoxins known.
Growth of this anaerobic bacteria and the formation of the toxin tend to occur in products with low acidity and oxygen content and low salt and sugar content. Inadequately processed, home canned foods such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn were often implicated. However, there have been outbreaks of botulism from more unusual sources such as minced garlic in oil, chili peppers, improperly handled baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil, and home canned or fermented fish. Garden foods such as tomatoes, which were previously considered too acidic for the growth of Clostridium botulinum, are now considered potentially dangerous foods in home canning. Although more common in home canned foods, it occurs only occasionally in commercially prepared foods.
The most common type of botulism in America is infant botulism, which accounts for approximately 65% of all botulism cases. This disease affects children under 12 months. The baby consumes the spores of the bacteria in foods such as honey. The spores germinate in the intestine where they produce the bacteria which in turn reproduce and release the toxin. Because honey may contain spores of Clostridium botulinum, infants under 1 year of age should not be fed honey.
Typically within a few hours to several days after you eat the contaminated food, you will begin to show the classic symptoms; blurred vision, dry mouth, and difficulty in swallowing. Gastrointestinal symptoms may or may not occur. If not treated, the paralysis always descends through the body starting at the shoulders and going down. The most serious complication of botulism is respiratory failure where it is fatal in up to 10% of people. It may take months before the recovery is complete.
If the disease is caught early enough, it can be treated with an antitoxin. If paralysis and respiratory failure occur, the person may be on a ventilator for several weeks.
What can you do to prevent this terrible foodborne illness?
o Follow strict hygiene steps when canning food at home.
o Refrigerate oils containing garlic or herbs.
o Store baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil should either be kept warm until serving or refrigerated.
o Consider boiling home canned food for 10 minutes before eating it to inactivate any toxins hidden in the food.
o Discard any damaged or bulging cans or any abnormal smelling preserved food. Don’t taste test or even try to boil, just throw it away.
Home preservation and food preservation is a tradition in America as old as the country itself. Taking some careful and common-sense steps can help prevent this powerful toxin from invading your canned goods.
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