Home canned vegetables linked to botulism

A couple of years ago I ran into a barfblog reader who commented to me, ‘You’re really scared of botulism, aren’t you?’ This wasn’t a random question, it was related to a few things I had posted following over 20 illnesses linked to a potluck dinner at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, Ohio.

Scared isn’t how I would describe it. Rattled and in awe of are probably better terms. The toxin blocks motor nerve terminals at the myoneural junction, causing paralysis. It starts with the mouth, eyes, face and moves down through the body. It often results in paralysis of the chest muscles and diaphragm, making a ventilator necessary. Months of recovery follow an intoxication.

Maybe I am scared.

There isn’t a whole lot of botulism in the U.S. every year, and not all of it is foodborne – (infant botulism is more common); over the past two decades, improperly home preserved foods are the main source.

According to Punch, fourteen people, including four children, were hospitalised after a mass botulism food poisoning outbreak in southern Kyrgyzstan.

An epidemiological investigation has been conducted and all patients have received the anti-botulinum serum.

The first case of food poisoning in the city of Uzgen in the Osh region was reported on March 11.

According to preliminary data, the poisoning occurred due to eating homemade canned vegetable salad.

A month earlier, 17 people in southern Kyrgyzstan were hospitalised for the same reason.

69 sick; Tel Aviv Hepatitis A increases may be linked to market veggies

Dozens of hepatitis A cases reported in the Tel Aviv area in Israel since last year may be linked to vegetables health officials say, according to a Haaretz report Friday.

Israeli health officials say since the beginning of 2012, there have been 69 cases of the viral liver disease reported from the area, with the majority tel.aviv.marketreported in the latter half of the year.

The Global Dispatch says this is a dramatic increase from the seven cases reported in all of 2011.

According to the report, Health Ministry officials believe the source may be vegetables sold in open-air markets in the south of the city.

Fresh produce-associated outbreaks: A call for HACCP on farms?

Jan Mei Soon, Louise Manning, Paul Davies and Richard Baines write in the British Food Journal that a desktop study of recent outbreaks and recalls that have occurred in the US and EU was undertaken with a view to determining the produce items implicated and factors causing the emergence of outbreaks. The question, ‘A call for HACCP on farms?’ is explored.

Minimally processed fresh-cut produce, represents a particular challenge to food safety. The research has highlighted the need to mitigate risk at all stages but with specific emphasis at the pre-farm gate stage. A more comprehensive and integrated approach to risk management is arguably needed. A call for HACCP on the farm or farm food safety management system may be warranted in future if fresh produce outbreaks continue to rise. However, further research is needed to establish the guidelines of HACCP adoption at the farm level. At present, the rigorous adoption of GAP as a pre-requisite and the practice of HACCP-based plans is a good indicator of the importance of pre-harvest safety.

22 sick with salmonella in Miss; vegetables suspect?

As the number of sick people doubled from 11 to 22 and one restaurant, Don Julio’s, closed voluntarily Thursday, the Cornith, Mississippi, visitors bureau said no one should hesitate to continue supporting area restaurants.

Health officials had found no evidence of any food contamination at Don Julio’s, and it was not ordered to close, a sign on the door said.

However, concern about contamination of vegetables from a supplier and the safety of customers prompted the move.

Don Julio’s and any other restaurant where confirmed salmonella victims say they ate will come under scrutiny, a state health department spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Pump up the jam: the consequences of unsafe canning

Canning wasn’t always my thing. Before arriving at N.C State, I didn’t know a whole lot about it (other than the results). I like food, nerdy trends and science and have since embraced the world of home preservation. I even have a t-shirt to prove it (Pump up the Jam, right, exactly as shown).

I’ve made pickles, jams, green beans, tomatoes, tomato sauces and a bunch of other stuff over the past couple of years. I’m not a seasoned veteran yet, but I’m trying. I figure that it’s important to know a bit about what folks might be calling me about and where they might go wrong.  The philosophy I follow when it comes to providing food safety information is to share risks and provide risk-reduction strategies — I don’t answer whether something is safe or not, and I don’t tell folks what they should do. I talk a lot about consequences, evidence and options.

One of the best risk-based resources out there to provide evidence and options is the National Center for Home Food Preservation run by my friend Elizabeth Andress at the University of Georgia. Elizabeth and her team provide the science for every best practice they produce – and are happy to share data or say where data doesn’t exist. Good communication comes from this open sharing of work.

With home food preservation of low acid foods (like veggies and meats), the consequences of not following evidence-based practices are catastrophic. It’s not just a bit of diarrhea or vomit; paralysis, leading to long-term heath problems and death are the norm, not the exception.

Earlier this year a couple of folks were paralyzed after eating improperly stored commercial soups (that hadn’t been acidified to reduce the outgrowth of botilinum toxin and required refrigeration). In the December issue of Journal of Food Protection, three outbreaks of foodborne botulism linked to home canned vegetables are detailed — including the foods, the practices and correct risk-reduction strategies.

Stuff like this is invaluable for food safety communication and extension-types.

Three outbreaks of foodborne botulism caused by unsafe home canning of vegetables—Ohio and Washington, 2008 and 2009
Journal of Food Protection®, Volume 74, Number 12, December 2011 , pp. 2090-2096(7)
Date, Kashmira; Fagan, Ryan; Crossland, Sandra; MacEachern, Dorothy; Pyper, Brian; Bokanyi, Rick; Houze, Yolanda; Andress, Elizabeth; Tauxe, Robert
Foodborne botulism is a potentially fatal paralytic illness caused by ingestion of neurotoxin produced by the spore-forming bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Historically, home-canned vegetables have been the most common cause of botulism outbreaks in the United States. During 2008 and 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local health departments in Ohio and Washington State investigated three outbreaks caused by unsafe home canning of vegetables. We analyzed CDC surveillance data for background on food vehicles that caused botulism outbreaks from 1999 to 2008. For the three outbreaks described, patients and their family members were interviewed and foods were collected. Laboratory testing of clinical and food samples was done at the respective state public health laboratories. From 1999 to 2008, 116 outbreaks of foodborne botulism were reported. Of the 48 outbreaks caused by home-prepared foods from the contiguous United States, 38% (18) were from home-canned vegetables. Three outbreaks of Type A botulism occurred in Ohio and Washington in September 2008, January 2009, and June 2009. Home-canned vegetables (green beans, green bean and carrot blend, and asparagus) served at family meals were confirmed as the source of each outbreak. In each instance, home canners did not follow canning instructions, did not use pressure cookers (canners? -ben), ignored signs of food spoilage, and were unaware of the risk of botulism from consuming improperly preserved vegetables. Home-canned vegetables remain a leading cause of foodborne botulism. These outbreaks illustrate critical areas of concern in current home canning and food preparation knowledge and practices. Similar gaps were identified in a 2005 national survey of U.S. adults. Botulism prevention efforts should include targeted educational outreach to home canners.


Special Agent Oso, the unique stuffed bear, washes hands and vegetables (Stephen Colbert is terrified)

In my continuing quest to watch children’s TV and become addicted to every infectious kids song out there – because 1-year-old Sorenne has a cold and insists on being held — we watched an episode of Special Agent Oso, the unique stuffed bear.

3 special steps, that’s all you need

wash the vegetables

chop the vegetables

toss the salad

Jade has to help make a salad for cousin Rachel, who can’t eat cheese or bread because she has food allergies – no pizza for Rachel.

Special Agent Oso — the unique stuffed bear — and Jade wash their hands before preparing the salad, and wash the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, straight from the garden, but eventually use a vegetable brush because the veggies are so naturally dirty. Problem solved.

BTW, the songs on these kids’ shows are bizarrely infective, like a foodborne pathogen.

The Hot Dog song on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse was written and performed by They Might Be Giants, and the Handy Manny theme song was written and performed by Los Lobos.

Dirty dozen food warnings are simplistic and suck

It’s end-of-year, so lists are big, and I’m fond of my Top-5 Records label list.

But some are just dumb, and it’s good to see the science types in New Zealand calling out some BS.

The Dominion Post reports tomorrow that toxicologists have accused a food safety campaigner of a lack of understanding after she advised people to eat organic celery to avoid pesticides.

Alison White has ranked celery at the top of a list of foods likely to contain pesticide residue, but scientists say that does not mean indulging in the vegetable will cause any harm.

Ms White, who is a researcher and co-convenor of the Safe Food Campaign, said consumers wanted information about whether their food contained pesticide residues.

Canterbury University toxicology professor Ian Shaw said Ms White’s table, which she published on the group’s website, displayed "naughtiness" in referencing research about cancer risks among people who sprayed vegetables, not those who ate them.

Ms White’s comments also showed she did not understand the difference between how dangerous a chemical was, and the actual chance or risk of it causing any harm.

The Food Safety Authority’s principal toxicology adviser, John Reeve, dismissed Ms White’s suggestion that pesticide residues could be making our food unsafe.

"Alison White and her colleagues have no expertise in toxicology and don’t understand the science."

Dr Reeve said pesticide limits were determined by how much of a chemical growers needed for it to work.

That limit was hundreds of times lower than the levels that would have any impact on human health, he said.

Humanure: It’s extreme, like Mountain Dew, if it was derived from human poop

For more than a decade, 57-year-old roofer and writer Joseph Jenkins has been advocating that we flush our toilets down the drain and put a bucket in the bathroom instead.

When a bucket in one of his five bathrooms is full, he empties it in the compost pile in his backyard in rural Pennsylvania. Eventually he takes the resulting soil and spreads it over his vegetable garden as fertilizer.

"It’s an alternative sanitation system," says Jenkins, "where there is no waste." His 255-page Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure is in its third edition and has been translated into five languages, but it has only recently begun to catch on. His message? Human manure, when properly managed, is odorless. His audience? Ecologically committed city dwellers who are looking to do more for the earth than just sort their trash or ride a bike to work.

Night soil is rumored to be used in the production  of fresh veggies , especially for upscale restaurants, in many large cities.

I’ll stick with riding my bike to work, and thank engineers for sewage treatment.

Australia: Tables restaurant find $19,000 for deadly asparagus; widow says, ‘we’ve had enough’

A fancy restaurant that served a man deadly asparagus sauce has been fined $19,000 – a fraction of the maximum penalty available under the Food Standards Act.

William Hodgins, 81, died of a ruptured stomach about 12 hours after taking his wife to the award-winning Tables Restaurant at Pymble, in January 2007.

Food Authority spokesman Alan Valvasori said legal advice was that it did not have enough evidence for a charge such as manslaughter.

A coronial inquest heard Mr Hodgins dined on snapper covered in a creamy asparagus sauce that had bacteria spores at 10 times the toxic level.

The maximum penalty under the Act is $275,000.

Mr Hodgins’ widow, Audrey, said the family had decided not to proceed with further legal action.

"We’ve had enough."

The best way to cook vegetables?

“There is a misperception that raw foods are always going to be better. For fruits and vegetables, a lot of times a little bit of cooking and a little bit of processing actually can be helpful.”

So says Steven K. Clinton, a nutrition researcher and professor of internal medicine in the medical oncology division at Ohio State University.

Numerous studies show that people who consume lots of vegetables have lower rates of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, eye problems and even cancer. But how should they be served?

Surprisingly, reports Tara Parker-Pope in today’s New York Times, raw and plain vegetables are not always best.

Researchers will report in the British Journal of Nutrition next month that in a study involving 198 Germans who strictly adhered to a raw food diet, participants had normal levels of vitamin A and relatively high levels of beta carotene, but they fell short when it came to lycopene (found in abundance in these processing tomatoes, right)

The amount and type of nutrients that eventually end up in the vegetables are affected by a number of factors before they reach the plate, including where and how they were grown, processed and stored before being bought. Then, it’s up to you. No single cooking or preparation method is best. Water-soluble nutrients like vitamins C and B and a group of nutrients called polyphenolics are often lost in processing. For instance, studies show that after six months, frozen cherries have lost as much as 50 percent of anthocyanins, the healthful compounds found in the pigment of red and blue fruits and vegetables. Fresh spinach loses 64 percent of its vitamin C after cooking. Canned peas and carrots lose 85 percent to 95 percent of their vitamin C, according to data compiled by the University of California, Davis.

Fat-soluble compounds like vitamins A, D, E and K and the antioxidant compounds called carotenoids are less likely to leach out in water. Cooking also breaks down the thick cell walls of plants, releasing the contents for the body to use. That is why processed tomato products have higher lycopene content than fresh tomatoes.

In January, a report in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry concluded that over all, boiling was better for carrots, zucchini and broccoli than steaming, frying or serving them raw. Frying was by far the worst..

That report did not look at the effects of microwaving, but a March 2007 study in The Journal of Food Science looked at the effects of boiling, steaming, microwaving and pressure cooking on the nutrients in broccoli. Steaming and boiling caused a 22 percent to 34 percent loss of vitamin C. Microwaved and pressure-cooked vegetables retained 90 percent of their vitamin C.

What accompanies the vegetables can also be important. Studies at Ohio State measured blood levels of subjects who ate servings of salsa and salads. When the salsa or salad was served with fat-rich avocados or full-fat salad dressing, the diners absorbed as much as 4 times more lycopene, 7 times more lutein and 18 times the beta carotene than those who had their vegetables plain or with low-fat dressing.

Below, processing tomatoes being harvested in an Ontario field.