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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Botulism in Georgia and Ohio Linked to Unnamed Potato Soup Companies

potato-soup.jpgIn January and April 2011, CDC provided antitoxin for treatment of two persons with toxin type A botulism associated with consumption of potato soup produced by two companies. On January 28, 2011, an Ohio resident, aged 29 years, was hospitalized after 5 days of progressive dizziness, blurred vision, dysphagia, and difficulty breathing. The patient required mechanical ventilation and botulism antitoxin. On January 18, he had tasted potato soup from a bulging plastic container, noted a bad taste, and discarded the remainder. The soup had been purchased on December 7, 2010, from the refrigerated section of a local grocer, but it had been kept unrefrigerated for 42 days. He was hospitalized for 57 days and then was transferred with residual weakness to a rehabilitation facility.

On April 8, 2011, a Georgia resident, aged 41 years, was hospitalized after 4 days of progressive dizziness and dysphagia. The patient developed respiratory distress, required mechanical ventilation, and was treated with botulism antitoxin. On April 3, she had tasted potato soup purchased from a local grocer, noted a sour taste, and discarded the remainder. The soup, stored in a plastic container labeled “keep refrigerated” in letters 1/8 inch tall, had been purchased on March 16, but had been left unrefrigerated for 18 days. She was hospitalized for 16 days and then was transferred with residual weakness to a rehabilitation facility.

Botulism is caused by a paralyzing toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. C. botulinum spores are present in soil and can be found on raw produce, especially potatoes and other root vegetables. If a low-acid food such as potato soup is stored unrefrigerated in an anaerobic environment (e.g., a sealed container), without a barrier to bacterial growth, spores can germinate, resulting in bacterial growth and botulinum toxin production. Because heating food to a temperature of 185°F (85°C) for 5 minutes inactivates the toxin, proper preparation also is an important safeguard.

  • Gil

    Very scary. Considering botulism is a public health situation, why are they just being reported now if the illnesses occurred in Jan and April?

  • Doc Mudd

    Why are these products being distributed commercially in this inherently unsafe fashion; not canned but not fresh, either?
    We’ve known about this stuff since forever (well, certainly since 1971, anyways):
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,905373,00.html
    This event sounds like just another stupid foodie affectation marketed to a gullible public. Oh well, it makes a “living” food, for sure…and a dead gourmand.
    Let’s hope normal people are smart enough to avoid this senseless method of food packaging. Proselytizing foodies, on the other hand, should purchase this trendy schlock in pallet quantities at BJs, just store it out in the potting shed – should be fine if it tastes OK, right?

  • Theresa Kentner

    I am seeking clarity on this one. Did the consumer or the stores hold it for 42 and 18 days at room temperature?

  • Minkpuppy

    Theresa, the consumers held it at room temperature even after buying it from a refrigerated case and the package being labeled “keep refrigerated”. Lord knows how many times they did this with no ill effects prior to this. The consumers did everything wrong, including tasting the product to see if it was “good” which you should never do. Just goes to show that consumer education is a vital part of the food safety chain. :-(

  • Theresa Kentner

    Thank you Minkpuppy. That is how I was reading it also, but I could not wrap my head around that someone, no TWO someones, would actually do this.