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Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Botulism: Rare but Potentially Deadly Foodborne Illness

Of the many types of food poisoning that make up our case list, likely none is more frightening than botulism.  Botulism is paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin.  The nerve toxin is produced under certain circumstances by a bacterium called Clostridium Botulinum. 

Reported cases of botulism are thankfully rare.  The CDC indicates roughly 150 cases per year, of which only 15% are of the foodborne botulism variety.  Classic symptoms of botulism include double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness.  Untreated, the muscle paralysis may progress to the respiratory muscles, legs, arms, and trunk.   The respiratory paralysis may necessitate the stricken victim be placed on a ventilator, sometimes for months.   Mortality rates have dropped significantly in recent decades, though, to between 3% and 5%

Botulism illness has been frequently associated with home canning of low acid foods, such as asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn.   If you are going to can foods at home, get proper instruction and safety information

In addition to the association with home canned goods, there have been commercial products associated with botulism poisoning, including carrot juice and chili sauce.

Recently, black bean sauce was recalled due to the possibility of botulism illness.   To date, it appears that no related cases of illness have been reported.