When is organic ever safer? Production standard only

National Public Radio in the U.S. – or as Colbert calls their programming, state-sponsored jazz – ran a story entitled, Organic isn’t always safer when it comes to botulism.

When is organic ever safer? It’s a production standard.

The story about Organic Italian olives is a timely reminder that if Clostridium botulinim, the bacteria that causes botulism, makes it as far as a jar packed with oil and not much oxygen, it can flourish.

"It’s the perfect environment for botulinum to grow," says Eric Johnson, a professor of microbiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Johnson said the case reminded him of an outbreak in the 1980s, which was caused by chopped garlic packed in oil. "Garlic is from the soil, so it has spores of botulinum in it.” The oil floats on top of the jar and seals out air, leaving water to collect at the bottom, where it acts like a Petri dish for botulism.

After the outbreak in chopped garlic, the FDA told garlic processors add phosphoric acid. The higher acid level thwarts bacterial growth. Another strategy used by big commercial processors is a "bot cook," which involves cooking foods at high temperatures under pressure to wipe out spores.