A man in the US appears to have died of botulism after eating some home-canned food that hadn’t been prepared properly.
Grays Harbor County Public Health announced that a man in Washington state aged between 55 and 65 passed away from a probable cause of botulism in late April 2022. Officials are still waiting for test results to come back before they can confirm the death was caused by botulism, but they suspect it’s likely to be the culprit after discovering 170 pint-sized jars of home-canned food and canning jars in his home.
Botulism is a life-threatening condition caused by toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria under anaerobic conditions (where there is no oxygen). The toxin attacks the body’s nervous system, causing difficulty moving, breathing, muscle paralysis, and sometimes death.
The bacteria responsible for producing the toxin are found naturally in many places, but it’s rare for them to make people sick. The problem occurs when the bacteria’s heat-resistant spores are given the opportunity to grow. Improperly home-canned, preserved, or fermented foods can provide the perfect conditions for spores to thrive. Certain foods, such as vegetables that are low in acidity, are especially likely to harbor the bacteria. Oddly enough, honey can contain the bacteria that cause infant botulism, so it's advised to not feed honey to children younger than 12 months.
Botulism neurotoxins are said to be the most poisonous toxins known to humankind. Given this potency, some terrorist groups have tried unsuccessfully to use the toxin as a bioweapon to intentionally harm people.
Earlier this year, Brad Leone, "food influencer" and host of the cooking series It’s Alive on Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel become the subject of internet beef when his recipe for homemade pastrami was accused of being a botulism risk. Leone had previously landed himself in hot water after it was shown that his water bath method for canning seafood broke FDA safety guidelines.
While awaiting the test results related to this recent death, local health officials are reminding people to follow proper canning techniques set out by the CDC.
“The CDC stresses that home canning, while a fun and productive way to preserve everything from seafood to vegetables, can put people at risk of botulism if not done correctly,” Grays Harbor County Public Health said in a statement.
“Using proper canning techniques, the right kind of equipment, and disposing of any canned foods that may not have been properly preserved is the best way to keep your home canned goods safe.”