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How to Tell if a Food Has Been Contaminated With Botulism

author image Marcy Brinkley
Marcy Brinkley has been writing professionally since 2007. Her work has appeared in "Chicken Soup for the Soul," "Texas Health Law Reporter" and the "State Bar of Texas Health Law Section Report." Her degrees include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing; a Master of Business Administration; and a Doctor of Jurisprudence.
How to Tell if a Food Has Been Contaminated With Botulism
Home canned goods are high risk foods. Photo Credit: Central IT Alliance/iStock/Getty Images

Some 110 cases of botulism occur in the United States each year, according to the National Institutes of Health. When an individual eats food contaminated by Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria produces a nerve toxin in the body that may cause paralysis and death if not treated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing botulism contamination involves preparing and preserving food safely. Consumers should inspect food before eating it for signs of possible contamination.

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Step 1

Feel the temperature of the food if it is one that requires heating or refrigeration. Avoid a baked potato wrapped in foil, for example, if it has cooled.

Step 2

Determine the source of the food, if possible. High risk foods include home-canned, low acid items, such as meat, corn, beets, tomatoes and green beans, and fermented seafood, such as that served in Alaska, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, commercially prepared chili peppers, baked potatoes and garlic in oil have been linked to botulism, as well.

Step 3

Inspect canned or jarred foods for irregularities in the container before opening, the Mayo Clinic suggests. People should discard a can with bulging ends or seams or one that is leaking. If a glass jar's lid bulges or leaks, do not eat the food. Be aware that honey, often linked to infant botulism, will show no signs of contamination, so never give it to children under age 1.

Step 4

Notice when you open the container if air rushes in or out. If air rushes out, the food may be spoiled or contaminated.

Step 5

Smell the food to determine if has a spoiled odor. Some strains of C. botulinum do not cause the food to smell bad, however, so an OK smell test does not mean that the food is safe.

Step 6

Observe the texture and color of the food. Liquids should be clear and the broth over canned meat or chicken should be gelled, the Oregon State University Extension says.

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