Protecting Yourself Against Botulism Food Poisoning
Commercial foods have been involved in botulism outbreaks. Some outbreaks have been attributed to improperly handled food, such as potato salad, served in restaurants. But many commercial food outbreaks are due to consumer mishandling, such as disregarding labels that indicate the food should be refrigerated.
Some food companies acidify their products or lower their moisture content as an extra precautionary measure in case the refrigeration warning is not heeded. Consumers can best protect themselves by reading the labels and following the storage instructions and by discarding rusty, swollen, or otherwise damaged cans.
Botulism food poisoning has often been caused by home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn. However, outbreaks have also originated from more unusual sources, such as:
- Chopped garlic in oil
- Chile peppers
- Improperly handled baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil
- Home-canned or fermented fish.
People who do home canning should follow strict hygienic procedures to reduce contamination of foods. Some suggestions include:
- Refrigerating oils containing garlic or herbs.
- Keeping baked potatoes cooked in aluminum foil hot until they are served, or refrigerating them.
- Boiling home-canned foods for 10 minutes before eating them (to ensure safety).
- Cooking food to be canned in pressure cookers for 10 minutes because such cookers can maintain temperatures high enough (above 212°F, or 100°C) to kill the spores, which are remarkably heat-resistant.
- Not leaving foods cooked at home at temperatures between 40 and 140°F (4.5 to 60°C) for more than four hours. (Toxins that may have formed can readily be destroyed by boiling the food for 10 minutes.)
Instructions on safe home canning can be obtained from county extension services or from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.