Two cases of botulism in Ohio investigated, may be linked to California pesto

Mrs. Kalisz, my grade 7 and 8 family studies teacher warned of the dangers of botulism by showing our class a bulging can of beans (which she kept in a ziplock bag). What I took away from that story was to never buy or use dented cans (although that practice can be debated). Botulism from commercially canned foods has been pretty rare in North America since the 1970s with only a couple of cases in 40+ years.newpesto72_large

The first case of food-related botulism recorded in the medical literature occurred in Germany in 1735 and was traced to uncooked fermented blood sausage. Food safety history guru (and pretty decent margarita recipe developer) Carl Custer pointed out in an IAFP workshop that botulism concerns (and regulatory responses) go back further than that. In the 10th century, Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium prohibited the manufacture of blood sausage because of repeated illnesses leaving folks paralyzed and dying not too long after exposure. Botulism (derived from botulus, the latin word for sausage) is pretty nasty.

The spores, found commonly in soil, germinate and outgrow in anaerobic conditions (like partially-fermented sausages, under processed canned food, seafood and foil-wrapped baked potatoes) resulting in vegetative cells. A byproduct of the cells’ multiplication is the toxin.

According to Imperial Valley News, a pesto product may be linked to two cases of botulism in Ohio and as a result health officials from California are warning consumers to avoid VR Green Farms jarred food.  The pesto (and other processed products don’t seem to be available from their online store anymore).

California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director Dr. Ron Chapman and state health officer warned consumers today not to eat VR Green Farms jarred food products because they may have been improperly produced, making them susceptible to contamination with Clostridium botulinum.

Ingestion of botulism toxin from improperly processed jarred and canned foods may lead to serious illness and death. CDPH is coordinating with the US Food and Drug Administration and the Ohio Department of Health in the investigation of two cases of suspected food-borne botulism infections that may be associated with consumption of the firm’s Pine Nut Basil Pesto.

VR Green Farms of San Clemente, California, is voluntarily recalling the following varieties of jarred food products: Pine Nut Basil Pesto, Pickled Farm Mix, Old World Tomato Sauce, Sundried Tomatoes in Olive Oil, Tuscan Grilling Sauce, and Pasta Sauce. These food products were sold under the VR Farms label and packaged in Mason-style glass jars with screw-on metal lids. The product labels do not include any coding or “use by” dates. Photographs can be found on Recalled Product Photos Page. The products were sold at the VR Green Farms stand in San Clemente, California and via the Internet to consumers throughout the United States.


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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.