One death and 20 hospitalizations have resulted from an outbreak of botulism linked to a church potluck in central Ohio. As many as 60 people ate at the Sunday potluck held at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, which means more people could be infected by this foodborne illness. In anticipation of this possibility, the CDC released 50 vials of the antitoxin to area hospitals treating patients. The likely cause of the outbreak is canned foods.
With the increase in food recalls for outbreaks of other foodborne illnesses, it is important to discern between seasonal, common illnesses and foodborne illnesses. Use the information below to learn about botulism, its symptoms, and how to avoid it.
Botulism is a paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin. Although all types of botulism can be fatal, foodborne botulism is considered a public health emergency because several people can be infected by ingesting the same contaminated food.
Typically, symptoms of botulism include:
- Double vision or blurred vision,
- Drooping eyelids,
- Slurred speech,
- Difficulty swallowing,
- Dry mouth, and
- Muscle weakness.
If untreated, the symptoms may lead to muscle paralysis, including the lungs. Death can result from respiratory failure. With foodborne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18-36 hours after ingesting contaminated foods, but may take as long as 10 days.
Fortunately, foodborne botulism is not contagious; therefore, the only way to contract it is if you eat the poisoned food. Foodborne botulism is often the result of improper canning techniques. In home-canned foods, it is typically found in items with low acidity, like asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn.
If home canning, be sure to use proper canning techniques:
- Pressure cook foods at 250F for at least 30 minutes.
- Boil home-canned foods for at least 10 minutes prior to eating.
For other foods, be sure to follow proper cooking and storing methods:
- Some strains of botulism do not give off a smell. If preserved food containers look damaged in any way, do not eat them.
- If you wrap potatoes in aluminum foil before baking them, keep them hot until served or store them in the refrigerator.
If you exhibit the above symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. The antitoxin administered for botulism is more effective if given before paralysis is complete. Early notification can also assist officials in alerting the public to food contamination.
Hospital care for symptoms and any additional complications is used for all types of botulism. Oftentimes patients will need a ventilator to help with breathing, and if muscle paralysis spread throughout the body, physical therapy may be necessary to restore muscle function.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the road to recovery can be a long process, taking anywhere from several months to several years.
Marlia Fontaine-Weisse is the Content Manager for Preparis.