How many botulism cases cause death per year?
Fortunately, we have very few, if any, botulism cases associated with foods in the US. Now we only see what is known as "wound botulism." This is what happens when a cut is not cleaned out well and scabs over. In a very few cases, this will provide an ideal environment for the botulism organism to grow. Again, very fortunately this is an extremely rare event.
The most famous food-borne outbreak of botulism was
several years ago when a garlic-in-oil mixture at a
restaurant made two people ill. The story is told that a
young intern who had just taken a nutrition course
treated the two in the hospital and recognized the
symptoms from their description in the textbook. It may
be just a story, but it makes a nice illustration for
Many of us believe that home canned foods are
probably not as inherently safe as the data might
suggest, because almost everyone cooks the food before
serving it. Botulism toxin is destroyed by boiling for
10 minutes. So even if the products were improperly
canned, people would still be safe because of the
cooking. The other nice(?) thing is that there are some
spoilage organisms that are even more heat resistant
than the one that causes botulism so the food starts to
ooze or fizz out of the jar. Most people (but not all, I
must report) are sensible enough to throw the stuff out
rather than try to eat it.
The only stories I know about people getting sick
from botulism (and they are really old stories) are
about people who tasted a green bean from the jar before
cooking or something like that. Again, these are just
stories and I have never been able to track down their
There is a new program at the University of Georgia to revisit all of the old canning, freezing, and drying recipes. Dr. Elizabeth Andress heads that program. You can find more information about it at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/. The group has decided to focus on the freezing and drying recommendations first, since they are in the most disarray and the canning recommendations seem to be working well based on the lack of food-borne illness.
Douglas L. Holt, Ph.D., Chair, Food
Science and Extension Specialist, University of
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009