Although botulism is most often associated with improperly home canned foods, improperly stored commercial or home-preserved products have the potential for causing botulism. Botulism is caused by a potent toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. If untreated, symptoms will progress to paralysis and death. In foodborne botulism, symptoms usually begin 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food, but can occur after 6 hours and as late as 10 days.
On May 18, 2011, Howard Seltzer of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition contributed the following article to food safety.gov blog (http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/food_labels.html).
Food Labels Are Serious Business
Taking the handling instructions on food labels seriously can go a long way toward keeping you and your family healthy. By contrast, ignoring the labels can lead to very serious illnesses. Here are some recent examples.
Unrefrigerated Soup Tied to Botulism Cases
Recently, a consumer in the South bought a plastic container of soup from a salad bar in a supermarket. It was sold cold and clearly labeled: HEAT & SERVE / KEEP REFRIGERATED
The soup sat unrefrigerated for a day or two before it was heated. The consumer tasted it and threw it out because it was “sour.” Despite having eaten very little of the soup, the consumer ended up in the hospital with botulism.
A similar case occurred in the Midwest last February. The consumer bought soup in a pack of two-plastic containers. It also was sold cold, and the labels also said to keep it refrigerated. One container was consumed immediately, with no ill effects. But, the consumer left the other container unrefrigerated for a week. Again, the consumer heated it, tasted it, and threw it out. And, again, that consumer also was hospitalized with botulism.
Botulism is as serious as food poisoning gets. It can result in respiratory failure and death. Even when patients survive, they may be hospitalized and on a ventilator for months, and they may suffer permanent neurological damage. So when a label says KEEP REFRIGERATED, keep the product refrigerated!
The bottom line for safety:
For more information see HGIC Fact Sheet 3040 Canning Foods at Home (http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/food_safety/preservation/hgic3040.html)
All suspect containers of spoiled, low-acid foods, including vegetables, meat, seafood and tomatoes, must be treated as having produced botulinum toxin and handled carefully in one of two ways:
Improperly canned, low-acid foods can contain the toxin that causes botulism without showing signs of spoilage. Jars of foods that have not been properly processed must also be discarded, or if they are unsealed, open or leaking they must be detoxified and discarded as directed above even if there are no signs of spoilage. Low-acid foods are considered improperly canned if any of the following are true:
How to Detoxify Canned, Low-Acid Foods
Contact with botulinum toxin can be fatal whether it is ingested or enters through the skin. Be extremely careful not to splash or come in contact with the suspect food or liquid. Wear disposable rubber or heavy plastic gloves. Wear clothes and aprons that can be bleached or thrown out if contaminated.
Step-by-Step Instructions for Detoxification:
How to Clean Up Contaminated Surfaces: