Proper Baked Potato Handling
Let’s say you have a little extra time to make some baked potatoes for dinner tonight. You take the time to delicately wrap each one in foil, folding over the creases to make a perfect seal. You bake them, and then after dinner, place the extra, uneaten baked potatoes, still wrapped in foil, into the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch. STOP. You are improperly storing your leftovers.
Storing wrapped baked potatoes can lead to the germination and growth of C. botulinum. These harmful bacteria produce an extremely toxic neurotoxin—even trace amounts can cause death.
Ingesting toxins produced from Clostridium botulinum causes a rare but serious condition known as botulism. The Food Safety and Inspection Service reports “in recent decades, botulism illnesses have been linked to foods such as baked potatoes sealed in aluminum foil.” (FSIS)
Because C. botulinum is an anaerobic bacterium, it grows in environments without oxygen, like soil and the inside of your foil-sealed potato. Although the baking process kills most harmful bacteria and destroys the botulinum toxin, C. botulinum produces endospores under stressful environments which cannot be easily killed. These endospores “reawaken” or germinate when environmental conditions approve, like when the tightly-wrapped, warm potatoes move to the fridge from the 375 °F oven.
Prior to storing left-over baked potatoes, remove the foil and refrigerate.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, symptoms of botulism occur within 12 to 36 hours and include:
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
- Dry mouth
- Facial weakness on both sides of the face
- Blurred or double vision
- Drooping eyelids
- Trouble breathing
- Nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps
If symptoms occur, seek medical help immediately, for you will have an increased chance of survival and lower your risk of complications like having “difficulty speaking, trouble swallowing, long-lasting weakness, and shortness of breath” (Mayo Clinic).