Foodborne botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by eating foods that contain neurotoxins produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. The botulinum toxin can affect the central nervous system and cause muscle weakness, paralysis and even death.
In the United States, an average of 21 cases of foodborne botulism are reported each year. Most of them are associated with home-processed and home-canned foods, especially low-acid foods such as vegetables, seafood, meats and poultry.
C. botulinum is found in soil and marine sediments worldwide, most commonly existing as bacterial spores. C. botulinum form spores when they are stressed in poor survival conditions. C. botulinum spores are found everywhere, including the surfaces of fruits, vegetables and seafood.
C. botulinum has been linked to a variety of foods, including home-canned foods, unrefrigerated homemade salsa, baked potatoes sealed in aluminum foil, garlic or spices infused oil and traditionally prepared fermented fish.
After botulinum toxins are ingested, the symptoms generally start with nausea, vomiting and dizziness. They can progress to a series of neurological symptoms such as double vision, blurred vision, difficulty speaking and swallowing, muscle weakness and difficulty in breathing, which may lead to asphyxia and cause death.
Foodborne botulism is caused by a three-stage reaction starting with the germination of spores, then the growth of C. botulinum and the production of botulinum toxin. Thus, prevention of foodborne botulism needs to target one or more of these stages. Temperature and pH (acidity of foods) are critical tools to prevent illness.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. 2014. Botulism. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/botulism/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007. Botulism Associated With Canned Chili Sauce, July-August 2007. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/botulism/botulism.htm
Kalluri, P., Crowe, C., Reller, M., Gaul, L., Hayslett, J., Barth, S., Eliasberg, S., Ferreira, J., Holt, K., Bengston, S., Hendricks, K., and Sobel, J. 2003. An Outbreak of Foodborne Botulism Associated With Food Sold at a Salvage Store in Texas. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 37 (11): 1490-1495.
United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. Food Safety Information. Clostridium botulinum. 2010. Available from: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/a70a5447-9490-4855-af0d-e617ea6b5e46/Clostridium_botulinum.pdf?MOD=AJPERES