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Foods That Can Cause Botulism

Foods That Can Cause Botulism Foods That Can Cause Botulism Foods That Can Cause Botulism

Botulism is a disease caused by the toxin produced by the bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. MedlinePlus reports that it occurs rarely; however, if you are infected by this toxin-producing bacteria, you can become extremely ill. The toxin that the bacteria produce affects the nerves throughout the body, including those of the eyes, mouth, muscles and digestive system. Most often, the source of the bacteria is home-canned food or improperly preserved foods; even tiny amounts of toxin can become problematic.


Infants younger than 1 year are at risk for what is known as infant botulism. This occurs when a baby eats honey that has been contaminated with Clostridium spores. As explained by MedlinePlus, these spores can still produce the powerful botulism-causing toxin. An infant's digestive tract is not yet mature enough to be able to fight the toxin, and the infant can become very sick in a matter of just a few hours. The medical reference UpToDate informs readers that typically, babies who develop infant botulism are about 3 or 4 months old. While most cases seem to occur in babies who ingest soil that contains the bacteria, in some cases babies are given honey that has been contaminated with Clostridium botulinum. Symptoms indicate that the nerves are being attacked. They include a decrease in sucking and feeding, drooping eyelids, muscle weakness and a loss of the tone in the muscles--the muscles become floppy. As the disease progresses, breathing difficulty can occur, which can quickly become respiratory failure. Botulism can be fatal in infants, so if this diagnosis is a possibility, parents should seek immediate medical attention.

Home-Canned Foods

According to Dr. Samuel Seagram and Dr. Sean Stone, writing in the medical reference UpToDate, the most frequent cause of foodborne--that is, food-caused--botulism is home-canned food items. In the United States, Alaska has the highest rate of botulism, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all cases of botulism between 1999 and 2000; in most cases, the botulism was due to canned fermented fish. A can of food provides two conditions that are ideal for the Clostridium spores: there is a reduced amount of oxygen in the canned item, and the temperature falls within the range that allows the spores to grow into toxin-producing bacteria. If you are concerned about eating canned goods, remember that it is home-canned foods that are most often the issue--commercially canned goods are rarely an issue.

Cured Pork Products

Another food source that may cause foodborne botulism is cured pork products. MedlinePlus informs readers that both cured pork and ham may be contaminated with the spores of Clostridium botulinum; as in the case of botulism due to canned foods, in the right environmental conditions, the spores may develop into toxin-forming bacteria. The toxin is ingested when you eat the contaminated food product and quickly--within eight to 36 hours--begins causing symptoms. Symptoms of foodborne botulism include abdominal pain, vision changes such as double vision, breathing difficulties or weakness on both sides of the body. These symptoms all have one thing in common: they are manifestations of the toxin's effect on the nerves in the body. Treatment includes hospitalization to observe the patient and make sure she does not develop respiratory failure. Besides monitoring for breathing problems, patients with botulism may receive a botulism antitoxin; however, because of the risk of side effects, the physician must decide whether the use of antitoxin will help the patient.

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