July 16, 2018

Home Canned Potatoes Likely Caused Ohio Church Botulism Outbreak

Public health officials in Ohio have found that potato salad made from home-canned potatoes likely caused the deadly botulism outbreak at the Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church potluck on April 19, 2015. As of today, there are 21 confirmed cases of botulism associated with that event. One woman died.

Potato Salad FPBThere are also ten suspected cases where people are showing symptoms consistent with the illness. Patients have been treated with a botulism antitoxin provided by the CDC. Twelve people are still hospitalized.

Improperly canned low-acid foods, such as potatoes, cheese, meat, and vegetables can harbor Clostridium botulism spores. Those spores grow in low-oxygen environments. Canned foods have very little oxygen, which is driven off during the cooking and canning process.

It’s critical that anyone who cans food at home follow rigorous food safety rules. Contact your local university extension program for information and tips on how to safely can food. You can also get information from the National Center for Home Preservation, and the Ohio State University Extension Home Food Preservation sites. Vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood should always be canned using a pressure canner or cooker, not with boiling water canners.

Dr. Mark Aebi, Health Commissioner & Medical Director for the Fairfield Department of Health said in a statement, “this is a difficult time for our community, and our thoughts and prayers are with the affected individuals and their families. I want to thank our staff for their dedication and hard work during this outbreak as well as the tremendous support we have received from the Ohio Department of Health and the CDC.”

Symptoms of botulism poisoning include drooping eyelids, blurred vision, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. The symptoms will quickly progress to difficulty breathing and paralysis of the muscles in the arms, legs, and trunk. Infants are diagnosed with lethargy, poor feeding, conspitation, weak cry, and poor muscle tone. Symptoms usually begin 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food. But some people don’t show symptoms until 10 days after exposure to the toxin, so anyone who attended that potluck should be evaluated by a doctor, since it has only been 8 days since the event.

Botulism is treated with an antitoxin and patients may need to be on a ventilator for weeks or even months. Antitoxin only acts on the toxin that has not been taken up by the central nervous system, so quick treatment is crucial. Some patients may require extensive and intensive medical care for months after this infection.

Comments

  1. Royce Sorensen says:

    Thanks for the story on the botulism case in Ohio. I am interested in knowing more. Were the potatoes canned with simply a boiling water method which is of course unacceptable in preventing botulism or were they done in a pressure canner but with improper temperatures insufficient to prevent botulism?

    • Linda Larsen says:

      We don’t know, because the health department hasn’t provided any details. There are many things that can go wrong when canning low-acid foods. Unless you’re an expert and have taken a class in pressure canning, it’s best to simply not do it.

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