Canned potato outbreak linked to two deaths in 2015

I really am scared of botulism. Not in an irrational way – I get the risk calculation stuff.

Prevalence is low but consequence is way high. Like months of health problems. Which might lead to death before recovery.ChBGKI-WgAAoAh7

Tragically, the 2015 Lancaster Ohio botulism outbreak claimed a second life (initial reports cited one, Kim Shaw) according to My Fox 28.

A second woman passed away from the botulism contamination that poisoned 21 other people at a church pot luck last year.

The family of Marcella Barbee, 65, said she died in November 2015.

Barbee was a member of Cross Pointe Church and had contracted botulism following the church potluck and suffered from a number of health issues as a result.

Virginia jail helps cook up inmates’ dreams in food safety program

When I was in jail in 1982, the only food-related job was putting peaches and plums (horse balls) in a can and shipping them to other institutions.

canningI taught school.

But at the Prince William County Adult Detention Center in Virginia the thing they can’t wait to cook up next could be one step closer. In a new program, inmates learn about food and drink safety and — if they pass a test — can go on to earn certification in those areas through the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program, he feels as though he can do anything.

“A lot of people sit back and dream,” said Sgt. Allen West, who spearheaded the jail’s ServSafe program. “They’re incarcerated, but there’s a lot of intelligent people here. They just made some bad decisions. So we can help them along and help them be a productive citizen.”

Tru dat.

Mississippi man still recovering from 2011 botulism illness

Mrs. Kalisz, my middle school family studies teacher, scared the crap out of me by telling stories about paralysis and warned of the dangers of botulism by holding up a bulging can of beans. All the food safety and home food preservation stuff I’ve done since then has confirmed that botulism is a nasty affliction.

Of the 20-30 cases of botulism in the U.S. every year, the majority are linked to improper home canning. Deviating from the prescribed steps can create the perfect environment for Clostridium botulinum spore outgrowth, germination and toxin production.  25387440_BG1

According to WMCTV in Memphis, Jay Killen a Horn Lake, Mississippi man has been slowly recovering from botulism for two years. The story reports that Killen consumed the toxin after eating canned beets (although it’s not clear what the source was or if this was confirmed by public health officials).

“One thing he ate changed our entire lives,” said Amanda Killen.

Jay Killen struggles to even eat a spoonful of chocolate pudding, after more than two years in and out of the hospital.

“This is the first I’ve been able to feed myself,” said Jay.

Around Thanksgiving, in 2011, Jay got sick. “I thought I was having a stroke or something,” he explained. So did doctors in the emergency room.

He was unable to move or even breathe; Jay was hooked up to a ventilator and placed in intensive care. By day six, doctors prepared to declare the 40-something former construction worker brain dead.

It may have been a can of beets we had,” said Amanda. “You get to the point where it really doesn’t matter where it came from because it’s not going to change anything,” Amanda explained.

After months tending to her husband, Amanda returned to work, in part, to preserve their health insurance. Jay was unable to even push a nurse call button, so volunteers signed up for weekly two and three hours shifts.

Jay couldn’t speak but regained his ability to blink. Blinking became his means of communication as visitors recited the alphabet.

“I would say at ‘A,’ and I’d say the alphabet, and he’d stop me on the letter I’d write down. And then we’d go to the next letter,” said Amanda.

An interesting side effect from Jay’s illness is that he has fewer wrinkles. Botulism comes from the same toxin used in Botox cosmetic procedures (sort of a weird way to end the story -ben).

In 2012 three folks in Oregon became ill after eating under-processed beets.

The consequences of unsafe home canning are scary

With the first ramps making their way to New York restaurants, the North Carolina spring is here.

As the top two-thirds of North America thaws out, the bottom third is gearing up for the home canning season. If done incorrectly (without acid or pressure as a control step) things can get scary.canned-tomatoes

According to ASIA-plus, 33 residents of a Tajikistan village have contracted botulism from a risky batch of home canned tomatoes, tragically leading to a 10-year-old’s death.

The boy was one of 33 residents of the Qahramon village in Sughd’s Asht district who have contracted botulism poisoning by eating home-canned tomatoes. According to the Sughd Center for Sanitary and Epidemiological Supervision, four of them were in the intensive care unit.

“On March 21, some 95 residents of the village of Qahramon gathered to celebrate the Navrouz holiday and 33 of them contracted botulism poisoning by eating home-canned tomatoes,” said the source.  “On March 23, they were taken to the Asht central district hospital, where they were vaccinated (I think they mean treated with antitoxin -ben) against botulism.”
It’s unclear from the report whether the product was just straight tomatoes or had other low acid foods (like peppers or onions added). Modern varieties of tomatoes are lower acid than some of their predecessors – making them a borderline low-acid food. Canned tomatoes require some added acid (lemon juice or vinegar are most common) to keep the Clostridium botulinum spores from germination, outgrowth which can then lead to bot toxin formation.

Improperly canned elk leads to botulism

Doug likes to call me the canning queen; this is something I embrace. I’ve detailed my recent skill development in home food preservation, which has been part necessity and part interest. I’m a jam/sauce/pickle kind of guy though. Canned elk (or other meats) isn’t for me. It’s not a safety issue, because tested recipes exist at the fabulous National Center For Home Food Preservation site, it’s more of a quality thing.

Deviating from the prescribed steps can create the perfect environment for Clostridium botulinum spore outgrowth, germination and toxin production. Of the 20-30 cases of botulism in the U.S. every year, the majority are linked to improper home canning. It’s not just meat, last year in Oregon three folks became ill after eating under-processed beets. images-3

KPLU in Seattle WA reports that a lawyer for the state of Washington’s Legislative Ethics Board gave himself botulism after eating elk that he canned using an adapted old family recipe which he processed in a pressure cooker and sped up the cooling time. Lucky to be alive, after months of recovery he has trouble walking and his taste buds don’t work.

On the Friday before Mother’s Day this year, Mike O’Connell was looking forward to spending the weekend with his wife at their home in the Seattle area. During the week, he lives alone in Olympia where he works. But he woke that morning with the strangest affliction: double vision.

The next morning, he felt even worse. He was bumping into walls. He called his wife.
“I told her, ‘You know, I’m going to stop by the ER on the way up just so somebody can tell me I’m okay and I’m not having a stroke,”’ he said.

“I didn’t know enough to bring up the fact that I had eaten canned meat,” said O’Connell.
Canned meat. You see, the night before O’Connell woke up with double vision, he had eaten some elk meat from a hunting trip. He canned it himself about a week earlier.

“Borrowed a pressure cooker, used an old family recipe for canning,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell’s mother had canned everything when he was a kid. He wanted to recapture a bit of his childhood. But things started going wrong from the start.

The pressure cooker was too small. O’Connell had already browned the meat in a cast iron pan. So he decided to shortcut the process. Once the jars sealed airtight he would take them out of the pressure cooker and start a new batch. The next day, he heard a pop in the pantry.

O’Connell found the jar with the popped seal, put it in the fridge and ate it the next day. He says it was delicious. The following week he heard another lid pop. Just as he had before, O’Connell found the jar and stuck it in the fridge. And a few days later he ate it for supper.
His breathing was getting shallow.

Daughter Weisfield was frustrated with the lack of answers and scared. She called a doctor she knew, a neurosurgeon. He ran through a short checklist of things to rule out. That list included a disease first identified in the 18th century: botulism. Weisfield looked it up online.

“It just made the hair on the back of my neck stand up because it was every single symptom just laid out exactly what my dad was experiencing,” she said.
Botulism is a paralyzing illness caused by what Centers for Disease Control calls the most potent toxin known to science. It’s rare; there were only 20 foodborne cases nationwide in 2011, just one in Washington state last year.

The doctors didn’t even wait to confirm botulism. They ordered a dose of anti-toxin from the CDC. Now the medical mystery was solved.

After receiving the anti-toxin, O’Connell transferred to Swedish Hospital in Seattle for rehab. It took just days for the Botulism to paralyze O’Connell. The recovery would be painfully slow.

“My eyes were the first thing to come back. I still walk with difficulty and use a cane. I have no taste with the exception of chocolate, so I buy chocolate ensure, chocolate mints and night before last, I found where they sell chocolate wine so I had some of that, too,” O’Connell said.

Improperly home canned foods eaten at private BBQ linked to three cases of botulism

I’m not sure if it’s a function of getting old or whether my circle of friends are changing their habits but my Facebook timeline has been peppered with status updates about trips to the farmers’ market, harvesting backyard vegetables and canning. There are a lot of canning-related updates.

Growing up all I was really exposed to was pickles, freezer jam and frozen peaches. All of which I loved to eat, but I always found ways to occupy myself while my mom and grandmother were preserving for fear of having to help. My dad and grandfather usually golfed while this was all going down. I never paid attention to what was happening and didn’t really care.

I also didn’t know anything about botulism.

In 2011, a 29-year-old man was hospitalized after five days of progressive dizziness, blurred vision, dysphagia, and difficulty breathing. The patient required mechanical ventilation and botulism antitoxin. He remained in the hospital for 57 days and then spent some time in a rehabilitation facility. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, he had tasted some potato soup that included botulinum toxin.

In 1977, 59 patrons of a Detroit Mexican restaurant became ill with botulism after consuming improperly canned peppers. As a result of rumors of a pending shortage of fresh peppers, the restaurant staff decided to stick lightly-cooked peppers and some water in jars and seal them.

Putting low acid foods in a jar and sealing them without either acidifying (with vinegar/fermentation) or processing using pressure is a bad idea.  That’s why the good folks at UGA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation like Elizabeth Andress and Judy Harrison lead efforts to come up with, test and evaluate recipes for home canning.

According to NewsChannel 21, three Oregonians have been hospitalized after suffering from botulism linked to improperly home-canned foods:

The Oregon State Public Health Lab has confirmed that three Central Oregon residents who were hospitalized contracted botulism at a private barbecue, Deschutes County health officials said Monday. Deschutes County Health Services has conducted an investigation and implicated home-canned food as the source of the Botulism. Final testing results are pending.

No other details were released, though officials told NewsChannel 21 two of the three people affected are back at home recovering.

"This was an isolated incident and Deschutes County Health Services has notified all involved individuals," a news release stated. "Botulism in NOT spread person to person, so there is no risk to the general public as a result of these cases."

County officials called the incident a good reminder of the importance of following strict hygienic procedures to reduce contamination of foods while canning, as well as obtaining the necessary pressure when canning to effectively destroy bacteria and prevent botulism.

Check out three streams of evidence-based home canning fun that I recorded with Brenda Sutton (North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Produce Lady) where we talk about risk-reduction steps.

Soup producers mad California regulators didn’t tell them how to manage risks

Being public is double-edged: great benefits by electronically and almost instantly connecting with individuals and food safety types around the world, with the risk of being a bigger target for every food-related (or other) grievance.

We encourage food types take to McLuhan’s mediums, and to fight back if wrongfully implicated.

But have some data.

The most common myths that permeate public conversations are food is automatically safe if:

• the bathroom’s clean;
• it’s local, organic, sustainable, natural;
• it’s government inspected; and,
• because we’ve always done things this way and never had a problem.

In 2011, a 29-year-old man was hospitalized after five days of progressive dizziness, blurred vision, dysphagia, and difficulty breathing. The patient required mechanical ventilation and botulism antitoxin. He remained in the hospital for 57 days and then spent some time in a rehabilitation facility. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, he had tasted some potato soup that included botulinum toxin.

In 1977, 59 patrons of a Detroit Mexican restaurant became ill with botulism after consuming improperly canned peppers. As a result of rumors of a pending shortage of fresh peppers, the restaurant staff decided to stick lightly-cooked peppers and some water in jars and seal them.

Putting low acid foods in a jar and sealing them without either acidifying (with vinegar/fermentation) or processing using pressure is a bad idea.

Earlier this week, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) urged people to avoid and dispose of One Gun Ranch and Organic Soup Kitchen soups sold at farmers markets in California because they potentially contained botulinum toxin. The vendors involved are saying they didn’t know the rules (or the risks). And it’s apparently the regulators fault for not letting them know.

According to Squid Ink, although none of One Gun Ranch and Organic Soup Kitchen products tested positive for the toxin (fortunately), the process/procedure to limit the germination of Clostridium botulinum and toxin outgrowth wasn’t validated by anyone. And the companies are crying fowl.

The companies targeted by CDPH are reeling from the state’s actions against their products.

"We have fed over 50,000 people in three years without incident," says Anthony Carroccio, founder and director of the Organic Soup Kitchen, which feeds homeless and low-income people in Santa Barbara.

Carroccio told us that there is nothing wrong with his soups and said that the company passed its most recent county health department inspection two weeks ago. He said the company has never had a recall of any of its products: "We do everything by the letter of the law."

Asked why the state health department is suddenly taking this action against the Organic Soup Kitchen, Carroccio responded: "That’s what I wish somebody would tell me."

Malibu-based One Gun Ranch emailed a statement to Squid Ink, saying: "The mandatory recall of our products is a result of further licensing requirements by the local health department in order to comply with state regulations. It was not a result of contaminated food or improper preparation of our jarred food products. In addition, the commercial kitchens used to prepare One Gun food products adhere to the highest standards of operation and regulations required by the CDPH."

One Gun Ranch CEO Jennifer Hozer told us in a phone interview, "Our understanding is it’s a paperwork issue. … Even though we’re doing everything, there’s a process you have to go through that we weren’t aware of, that they didn’t make us aware of, where they basically observe how you do it. Once that happens, we’ll be fine. Our practices are in place. In all honesty, the way we do it is above and beyond what they require. It’s just a matter of them seeing it."

Hozer added: "We want to protect our customers as well. We understand why they had to do what they did, as far as issuing the recall. It’s just unfortunate that it had to be with a scare tactic, causing fear of the product. We’ve all eaten the food, [and] nobody’s ever gotten sick."

Double points for two we’ve-never-made-anyone-ill comments in the same story. A better answer would have been to talk about the exact processes they use to limit the potential for botulinum toxin formation and how those processes have been validated. In the absence of that info, a lack of illnesses or issues is usually luck.

The idea of prevention is to prevent – before people get sick.

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.

UK food plant shut down after filthy conditions discovered

The Evening Courier reports that a chick-pea canning plant at Marshall Hall Mills in Elland has been ordered closed after environmental health officers found a shocking catalogue of hazards and filthy conditions, including:

• a plastic plant pot was used to sieve chickpeas and the conveyor, which turned out thousands of cans of pulses each day, had also been used to tin chilli hemp seeds for fish bait;

• rat droppings and piles of waste were found near where ingredients were stored;

• machinery was a year overdue for calibration and test strips to check products were more than three years out of date;

• black mould and cobwebs were found on the ceiling near the production line; and,

• handwash stations had no water and the only supply was in the grubby toilets where trousers were hung to be used in place of a towel.

The firm is thought to have packed under several different labels and supplied to small retailers across the country.

Ben Chapman profiled at NC State (this time with notes)

Chapman got his obligatory profile as new faculty in one of the North Carolina State University publications this week; this is the bites/barfblog version.

When Ben Chapman arrived at N.C. State University in January as the new food safety specialist in the Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Sciences, he hit the ground running. …

Since arriving in North Carolina, Chapman has converted from a former Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan to a Carolina Hurricanes fan.

Carolina has a good hockey team and tickets are easy to get. Toronto sucks and tickets are impossible to get. Carolina has also won the Stanley Cup once in the past 42 years. Toronto has not.

He says that he spends much of his free time discussing the virtues of hockey with his wife and son (that’s Jack, below, left, at a Hurricanes game in about 4 years)..

Those who can, do. Others teach. Others talk. Others bore their families.

A player himself since age 4, he has even started playing hockey here in North Carolina with a group in Wake Forest.

If he’s been playing since 4 he really should be better.

Chapman has focused on finding the best ways to communicate food safety risk to the people who need to know. He is interested in how social media like Facebook and rapid communication technologies like Twitter might improve public safety around the issue of food risk.

It also helps to stay current on all the social media for fantasy baseball/football/hockey/cycling tips.

Chapman had a sense that the bathroom posters proclaiming that “employees must wash hands before returning to work” might not produce the desired results.

It was probably the sense of smell, coming from his hands.

Chapman even spent a semester working as a dishwasher in a restaurant to get a better sense of what the work climate was like.

I didn’t pay him enough as a graduate student and he had to moonlight.

Chapman noted that during busy times, employees tended to forget safe food-handling practices. “When it’s busy in a food-service operation, it gets really crazy,” he said.

That’s when the Pink Floyd is cranked.

In his new position, Chapman continues his quest to find the best ways of reaching food-service workers and consumers.

Go to a restaurant? A supermarket? It’s not like searching for a Holy Grail.

“We have a responsibility to get that information out there,” Chapman said. “The kind of things we’re doing here would have been hard to do in Canada — moving food safety forward.”

That’s what she said.

One way that Chapman has been moving food safety forward is helping agents develop training programs on home food preservation. Once a hallmark of extension programming through tomato clubs for girls, canning and other home food preservation techniques had largely fallen out of favor with consumers in recent years.

Ben Chapman: Defender of the can.