Monthly Archives: November 2015

Botulism Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is the result of consuming food contaminated with toxins and bacteria that are harmful to our health. Eating food that contains a specific bacteria, known as Clostridium botulinum, often causes botulism food poisoning. The bacteria produces the botulinum toxin, that can lead to paralytic illnesses. The powerful toxin spreads in the body through the bloodstream and causes harm to the nerves that are responsible for controlling the muscles.

The toxin impairs nerve functions, causing respiratory and musculoskeletal paralysis. Although Botulism is a rare disease, it can easily be fatal. Clostridium Botulinum is frequently found in soil and intestinal tract of fish and animals. This is a serious type of food borne disease, that occurs by consuming improperly preserved foods, particularly the ones with a low pH. These include beets, green beans, mushroom and corn. Certain conditions, such as temperatures between 4.5 and 49 degree Celsius, can promote the growth of this bacteria.

The toxin thrives in home cooked and commercially cooked foods, that are not properly preserved. Canned foods can be a source of botulism infection, if proper canning steps are not followed. The bacteria can also be transmitted through tightly wrapped and vacuum packed food. Uncured meats or those free from sodium nitrate, contain Clostridium botulinum. This is because sodium nitrate is capable of destroying the bacteria.

Infants can also contract this type of food poisoning, when they ingest honey or corn syrup as these foods contain spores of C. botulinum. However, honey is safe for children who are more than one year of age.


Symptoms are generally noticed within 18 to 36 hours after the consumption of contaminated food. In some cases, the symptoms may appear as early as 4 hours. As the bacteria affects the nervous system, the illness should be treated as soon as possible. Symptoms include

Abdominal cramps
Drooping eyelids

The symptoms generally aggravate and lead to

Dry mouth
Blurred vision
Trouble swallowing and speaking
Difficulty in breathing
Muscle paralysis

If the treatment is delayed, muscle paralysis may affect the arms, legs and respiratory muscles, that could cause suffocation, which ultimately leads to death.


A physical examination is done by the doctor to look for visible symptoms. The doctors may also inquire about the food consumed recently. To confirm the diagnosis, a stool sample is taken and sent to the laboratory for further analysis. Blood tests can also done to verify the presence of toxins in the body. Certain lab tests are also performed on the food to confirm the diagnosis.


In the United States, the frequency of botulism is very less, as only 35 to 40 cases of this type of food poisoning are reported every year. The Botulinum anti-toxin is commonly used to treat this form of treatment. An anti-toxin does not allow the toxin to circulate in the bloodstream. People with breathing problems are put on a respirator. Other supportive therapy is also provided. When the patient finds it difficult to swallow foods, intravenous fluids are given.

Implementing strict hygienic practices while canning food, can greatly reduce the risk of botulism infection. The bacteria cannot survive high temperatures and so, canned food should be eaten only after boiling it for 10 minutes. Prompt treatment can definitely speed up the recovery process of the patient.

Food Poisoning Symptoms

A food-borne condition, food poisoning occurs when we eat or drink anything that contains toxins, chemicals, or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc. More often than not, this condition occurs due to the consumption of food items, beverages, or water that is contaminated by bacteria. Some of the bacteria that are commonly responsible for causing this food-borne illness include Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, Vibrio cholera, and Escherichia coli. This condition can be diagnosed, if one is aware about the symptoms of food poisoning. The following sections list out the symptoms, contributing factors, and preventive measures of this food-borne illness.


Food poisoning will usually occur within a few minutes to about 8 hours after you have ingested the contaminated food. The symptoms could include one or more of the following:

➻ Abdominal cramps
➻ Nausea
➻ Vomiting
➻ Sudden and severe diarrhea
➻ Sudden unexplained fever usually accompanied by other symptoms
➻ Aching muscles
➻ Unexplained fatigue
➻ Severe headache

If the food poisoning is caused by a chemical or toxin, the onset of the symptoms will be faster, in comparison to food poisoning that is caused by a bacterium or virus.

Contributing Factors

Home-cooked food, or raw fruits or vegetables that are eaten at home should not be a cause of worry, as long as they have been washed and cooked properly. Even processed canned foods that have been opened will not cause problems, as long as they are kept at the right temperature. You should be really careful while consuming street food, or food served at food joints, social gatherings, or anywhere outside the house where the food could get contaminated. The reason why food might get contaminated include improper handling of the food, the use of unclean utensils for cooking, not cooking the food properly, keeping the food in the open for long periods, or not storing the food properly. Under such circumstances, bacteria and viruses could enter the food and multiply.

Foods Most Likely to Cause Food Poisoning
It is practically impossible to tell the difference between normal and contaminated food. Both will look the same, smell the same, and taste the same. Foodstuffs that are more likely to get contaminated by pathogens include:

➻ Meat (beef, mutton/lamb, pork, etc.)
➻ Poultry (chicken, duck, wild game, etc.)
➻ Dairy products (unpasteurized milk, cheeses that were not treated properly, etc.)
➻ Fish (Ciguatera, Scombroid, and shellfish)

Besides these, other sources include fresh fruit and vegetables (unwashed and eaten raw), and processed foods that have not been stored at the required temperature.

Who is at Maximum Risk?
Food poisoning is fairly common and can affect anyone, but the level is usually so mild that it goes unnoticed. At times, mild symptoms are experienced, as the immune system responds quickly. However, the symptoms could be severe, if contaminated food is consumed by an infant or an elderly person whose immune system is weak. In such cases, even the slightest bacterial contamination could make them sick. Infants, seniors, and individuals with kidney problems or diabetes should be very careful of what they eat. Also, pregnant women and nursing mothers should eat ensure that they eat food that has been washed and cooked properly. Don’t eat a particular food item in case of even the slightest of doubt.

Preventive Measures

In order to avoid food poisoning, you should follow the measures given below:

➻ Cook all meat, fish, and poultry products thoroughly.

➻ After handling raw meat, fish, and poultry, always wash your hands with soap and dry them before you touch any other food item. Also, wash the kitchenware that was used while handling the raw meat.

➻ Do not cook and keep food without refrigeration for too long. Cook your food just prior to eating it.

➻ If collecting mushrooms from the wild yourselves, please make sure you can correctly identify the mushroom variety. Some of the varieties are poisonous. So, avoid collecting and eating wild mushrooms, unless you have the ability to identify poisonous mushrooms. If you cannot identify these mushrooms, you can buy packaged mushrooms from the supermarket; they are the edible variety and always safe to eat.

➻ While eating canned food, never open a can that is dented or bulging. Bulging cans are a sure sign of bacteria infestation.

➻ Never eat food that smells or tastes even slightly unpleasant. It could a sign of bacterial infestation.

➻ While at an unknown place, always eat freshly cooked hot food.

➻ Before eating raw fruits and vegetables, wash them thoroughly.

➻ Be careful while drinking water at unknown places. Drink boiled or bottled water as far as possible.

➻ Consume shellfish that has been cooked thoroughly. Consuming undercooked shellfish is one of the leading causes of food poisoning.

Consult a doctor at the earliest, if you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms. If left untreated, it could lead to complications that require hospitalization. Since prevention is always better than cure, maintain proper hygiene while handling, cooking, and storing food.