Foodborne Botulism is Declared the Cause of El Paso County, CO Woman’s Death
The death of a woman from El Paso county, Colorado, on September 20, 2019, is recently declared by officials as caused by foodborne botulism.
Botulism is a rare but often fatal illness in which toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium butyricum, and Clostridium baratii overtake the body’s nervous system. Once the toxins have begun to attack the nervous system the person begins to experience respiratory failure, muscle paralysis, and sometimes death. Foodborne Botulism is only one among the other types of botulism that can occur, such as wound botulism, infant botulism, adult intestinal toxemia botulism, and iatrogenic botulism.
The woman from El Paso county was reported to have eaten initially frozen potatoes stored for two weeks at room temperature. This woman was the first death caused by foodborne botulism since 2008.
Foodborne botulism occurs due to the consumption of food or drink which is already contaminated with botulinum toxin. According to the Center For Disease Control (CDC) food botulism most commonly occurs with homemade foods which are improperly canned, preserved, or fermented. The CDC notes that store bought canned fruits and vegetables are much less likely to contain botulinum toxins than homemade canned goods. Interestingly, the bacteria which cause botulinum toxin are found naturally in many places and can even be consumed with no effect on a person. This is accounted for by the fact that the bacteria relies on its spores (a protective coating) which can only survive in select environmental conditions such as in low acidity, sweetness, and oxygen. For this reason, canned foods, if not prepared properly, can meet the ideal conditions for spores to thrive and produce toxins. Helpful guidelines for safe home canning can be found on the CDC’s website.