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Ohio Church Potluck Linked to Botulism Outbreak with One Confirmed Death

Ohio Church Potluck Linked to Botulism Outbreak with One Confirmed Death


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At least 18 suspected cases of botulism, including one death, are in the process of confirmation through lab testing

The incident is an isolated event and is not expected to affect the community at large.

A potluck hosted at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, Ohio, on Sunday, April 19 is believed to be the source of a botulism outbreak that has killed one person and affected at least 18 others who are currently seeking medical treatment, Ohio’s Fairfield Medical Center announced. Between 50 and 60 people attended the potluck.

Botulism, a rare paralytic disease caused by a nerve toxin, is not contagious. It is acquired by eating food that contains the toxin, infecting a wound with the toxin’s bacteria, ingesting the bacteria spores, or overdosing on the botulism toxin for use in medical or cosmetic purposes, like Botox.

Symptoms typically begin within 18 to 36 hours after contamination, and can include double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, and shortness of breath.

“After symptoms were identified, arrangements were made immediately with the Centers for Disease Control to obtain an anti-toxin to help with treatment; this arrived overnight at Fairfield Medical Center,” FMC said in a statement.

“In addition, FMC’s incident command center was immediately activated and remains operational. We continue to partner with the Fairfield Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the Central Ohio Trauma System. The Ohio Department of Health is conducting an ongoing investigation.”


Ohio botulism outbreak: Potato salad with home-canned potatoes made using a boiling water canner

The botulism outbreak that sickened dozens at a Ohio church potluck dinner in April has been linked to potato salad prepared with improperly home-canned potatoes, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published Friday.

The outbreak that affected 29 and killed one was the largest botulism outbreak in the United States in more than 30 years.

The source of the outbreak, according to the investigation, was potato salad prepared with improperly home-canned potatoes, a known vehicle for botulism, which was served at a Fairfield County, Ohio church potluck on April 19.

The CDC points out the work of a “astute clinician” and a rapid, coordinated response which likely reduced illness severity. The coordinated response included the CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile who sent 50 doses of botulinum antitoxin to Ohio.

The attendee who prepared the potato salad with home-canned potatoes reported using a boiling water canner, which does not kill C. botulinum spores, rather than a pressure canner, which does eliminate spores. In addition, the potatoes were not heated after removal from the can, a step that can inactivate botulinum toxin. The combined evidence implicated potato salad as the source of the large outbreak.

Food borne botulism is a severe intoxication caused by eating the preformed toxin present in contaminated food.

Homemade potato salad
Image/ Alcinoe

Food borne botulism occurs when the bacterium Clostridium botulinum is allowed to grow and produce toxin in food that is later eaten without sufficient heating or cooking to inactivate the toxin. Botulinum toxin is one of the most potent neurotoxins known.

Growth of this anaerobic bacteria and the formation of the toxin tend to happen in products with low acidity and oxygen content and low salt and sugar content. Inadequately processed, home-canned foods like asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn have commonly been implicated.

However, there have been outbreaks of botulism from more unusual sources such as chopped garlic in oil, chili peppers , improperly handled baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil and home-canned or fermented fish. Garden foods like tomatoes, which used to be considered too acidic for the growth of Clostridium botulinum, is now considered a potentially hazardous food in home canning.

Though more common in home-canned foods, it does happen occasionally in commercially prepared foods.

Typically in a few hours to several days after you eat the contaminated food you will start to show the classic symptoms blurred vision , dry mouth, and difficulty in swallowing. Gastrointestinal symptoms may or may not occur. If untreated, the paralysis always descends through the body starting at the shoulders and working its way down.

The most serious complication of botulism is respiratory failure where it is fatal in up to 10% of people. It may take months before recovery is complete .

If the disease is caught early enough it can be treated with antitoxin. If paralysis and respiratory failure happen, the person may be on a ventilator for several weeks.


Rapid Response on Ohio’s Church Potluck Botulism Outbreak

The botulism outbreak at the Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, Ohio in April 2015 was the nation’s largest in 40 years. The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) released a study on the outbreak that gives credit to early diagnoses that limited the number of deaths.

One person died in this botulism outbreak and 29 people were sickened. The last time an outbreak of 10 or more people resulted in a death in the U.S. was in 1978. An outbreak in New Mexico at that time sickened 34 people and killed one person.

It can be difficult to diagnose botulism, since the early symptoms, including difficulty swallowing, facial weakness, and drooping eyelids, can mimic a stroke. On April 21, 2015, the Fairfield Medical Center contacted with Ohio Department of Health because one person presented to the hospital with botulism. A single case is a public health emergency, because it can signal an outbreak, according to the report.

Within the next two hours, four more patients arrived at the emergency room. All five people had eaten at the potluck two days before. The CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile sent 50 doses of botulinum antitoxin to Ohio, in a rapid response to the diagnoses.

Among the 77 people at the potluck, 25 met the confirmed-case definition, and four met the probable-case definition. The median patient age was 64 years. Seventeen of the patients were female.

Twenty-five patients received the antitoxin. Eleven required intubation and mechanical ventilation to help them breathe. Among 19 cases that were lab-confirmed, specimens were positive for botulinum neurotoxin type A or Clostridium botulinum type A. Sixteen people were able to go home after a week.

When patients were interviewed, it became clear that potato salad was the food with the highest association with probable or confirmed cases. Of the 12 food specimens collected from the church dumpster, six were positive for botulinum neurotoxin type A: five were potato salad and one was contaminated macaroni and cheese that was probably contaminated after it was thrown away.

The person who prepared the potato salad used home-canned potatoes, and used a boiling water canner, which does not kill botulism spores. Only a pressure canned kills the spores.


Botulism at the Church Potluck

Was it Edna's Snickerdoodle Salad or Miss Patty's Creamed Corn Casserole?

Leslie was the one covering people in apple butter. I was just an innocent on-licker!

I thought of DL the second I heard this story on the news.

This happened at a gathering that I witnessed years ago. The people preparing the meals left them out in the warm too long and everyone got the shits and barfs. nobody died.

The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

Holy mother of Christ, I looked it up, and there actually is a thing called Snickerdoodle Salad - basically chopped apples and Snickers bars mixed with Cool Whip. I've led a sheltered life.

I thought Snickerdoodle Salad was slang for rimming someone who wasn't clean down there.

Potato salad, by divine intervention, it is ALWAYS the potato salad!

At our office potluck this happened. I secretly always knew it was because of Ginny's potato salad.

How do the zealots rationalize when bad things happen to them. SATAN?

My friend works for a company that has picnics and asks people to bring things, but they specify all food must be store-made. They don't want anything homemade because "we don't know how clean your kitchens are". It makes sense but given how many food manufacturer recalls you see every week (Sabra Hummus, Blue Bell ice cream. etc.) it's probably pointless.

r12, if my company had a picnic and told people to bring things, I'd opt to stay behind and work. A company that can't manage to foot the bill for an offsite really shouldn't have people out of the office for the day anyway.

I agree r13. These picnics are on the weekend and attendance is not technically mandatory (but to be a proper "team player" you had better show up) so they aren't even paying people to be there. You'd think they could at least cater the damn thing. It's an awful, Mormon-owned company.

I feel so sorry for your friend R12/R14.

Is it sacrilegious to bring deviled eggs to a Mormon sponsored event?

R16 Not any more sacrilegious than bringing Lea Remini to a Church of Scientology Christmas Party.

Mormons are known for their exceptional thrift.

LANCASTER, Ohio -- Health officials say the likely source of the botulism outbreak that killed one person and sickened many others at an Ohio church potluck dinner was home-canned potatoes used in a potato salad.

Mary! Just rub your face in the stuff, cheaper than botox injections any day.

I don't feel like cornholing, I'm feel-

Girls, GIRLS! This thread should be at 600+ by now.

[quote] by: Betty, shitting my brains out and wringing my hands

If you'd bothered to read the article you posted, you would know that botulism does not cause diarrhea. And you'd have a difficult time wringing your hands if you were stricken with botulism paralysis.

Botulism is caused by anaerobic bacteria, which means that it comes from canned or jarred foods that have been vacuum packed, i.e, the air was sucked out of the container and then the container was sealed. It's not from "mayonnaise getting warm in the sun." It grows in the absence of oxygen, or in very low oxygen conditions.

It does not cause diarrhea. It causes paralysis. The paralysis starts in the face. The eyelids droop. Death comes from paralysis of respiratory muscles, or, in the words of Kelly Osbourne "I cant breath(e)."

[quote] This happened at a gathering that I witnessed years ago. The people preparing the meals left them out in the warm too long and everyone got the shits and barfed

Mmmm, no. You didn't witness botulism poisoning, dear.

Keep your loved ones alive. Do not can low-acid foods at home unless you know what you're doing . . . and even then, I'm sorry, "home-canned potatoes"? what, potatoes are so expensive they can't be bought? If you're growing them, they're root vegetables, no need to can them. Go to your cool dark place to store spuds. Your, um, root cellar or substitute.

Canning methods and recipes have changed because our food supply has changed. I will be in Ohio in 2 weeks and slap them silly for all of us.

Jesus H. Christ. Who in their right mind would can potatoes? Why, whatever for? FFS, they're 25 cents a pound

I've seen commercial canned potatoes in stores, but could never figure out for the life of me why anyone would ever want to buy or eat them. That is, until I saw an episode of "Semi-Homemade" with DL goddess Sandra Lee where she actually used them! YUCK! I can only imagine what potatoes soaking in canning liquid must taste like.

[quote] Jesus H. Christ. Who in their right mind would can potatoes?

Maybe a Mormon? Isn't home canning/jarring big with them? I know they are supposed to kept a pantry full of non perishable food in case of nuclear war or Armageddon or something.

Or maybe someone who is freaked out about GM food and only wants to grow their own.

[quote] I've seen commercial canned potatoes in stores, but could never figure out for the life of me why anyone would ever want to buy or eat them.

My mother in law makes "french fries" out of them. The first time I saw my husband do this I was shocked beyond words. And my mother was a horrible cook, so it's not like I grew up eating delectable roast meats and 100% fresh foods. But canned potatoes? He slices them and fries them in a panful of Wesson vegetable oil.

Maybe it's a Je.wish thing, because she also made egg noodles and poured ketchup over it and called it pasta with tomato sauce. I thought she was the only person in NY who did this (how can you not know how to buy a box of Ronzoni and read the instructions for tomato sauce on the back of package?) but I found out it from a he.wish woman that I used to work with that it was a Je.wish thing. Why, I don't know.

What am I supposed to have in my food storage?

There are three main components of food storage:

Food supply (three-month and long-term)

Store foods that are a part of your normal diet in your three-month supply. As you develop a longer-term storage, focus on food staples such as wheat, rice, pasta, oats, beans, and potatoes that can last 30 years or more.

It was the Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster.

But your right, Mormons are supposed to be prepared for emergencies and are cheap, too, but I don't know about the canning. A tin can is better for long term storage than a glass mason jar. I'm pretty sure home-canned foods are supposed to be eaten within the year.

My mom used to can back in the '70s. It was an old country habit and y parents had friends who had large fruit orchards or knew other farmers with orchards (pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots) so we had a ton of free, fresh fruit in summer and canned in the winter. My parents liked home-canned better than store bought because it wasn't as sugary/syrupy. And they were very thrifty. However, they'd never dream of canning a goddamn potato.

[quote]He slices them and fries them in a panful of Wesson vegetable oil.

R19, Who the fuck cans potatoes at home? So fucking stupid. Potatoes will keep for months if stored properly. There's no fucking need to can them.

Ugh. Listen to this. Mormon funeral potatoes

Calorically astronomical and dense with melted cheese, funeral potatoes are a casserole of shredded cooked frozen potatoes, canned cream of chicken soup, and sour cream, topped with crumbled cornflakes and baked until molten. This food, along with green Jell-O, was immortalized in a set of collectible pins from the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Mormons aren't embarrassed by their food. To the contrary, they seem to take an enormous amount of pride in what they can do with horse hooves.

[quote] they seem to take an enormous amount of pride in what they can do with horse hooves.

It's the Fundie Frau version of Shigella Year at Michfest!

There was a Shigella Year at Michfest?

[quote]shredded cooked frozen potatoes

They mean "hash browns", R36.

I've made that "funeral potatoes" dish myself, although I know it as hash brown casserole.

I don't know why, but canned cream of mushroom soup [Campbell's, of course] is FANTASTIC with hash browns.

Because it makes you more regular, R41?

My city has a huuuge two-week multicultural celebration every year, with different countries/nationalities showing off their traditional dances, clothing, and food.

A few years ago, some idiot at the Russian pavilion stored raw ground beef on an upper shelf in their fridge, directly above an open container of juice.

There weren't any deaths, thankfully, but over 40 people got pretty damn ill from e.coli poisoning, including a toddler.

There was indeed, r40. The culprit: an "uncooked tofu salad."

It was the subject of a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology:

[quote]In August 1988, an estimated 3,175 women who attended a 5-day outdoor music festival in Michigan became ill with gastroenteritis caused by Shigella sonnei. Onset of illness peaked 2 days after the festival ended, and patients were spread throughout the United States by the time the outbreak was recognized. An uncooked tofu salad served on the last day was implicated as the outbreak vehicle (odds ratio = 3.4, p less than 0.0001). Over 2,000 volunteer food handlers prepared the communal meals served during the festival. This large foodborne outbreak had been heralded by a smaller outbreak of shigellosis among staff shortly before the festival began and by continued transmission of shigellosis from staff to attendees during the festival. S. sonnei isolated from women who became ill before, during, and after the festival had identical antimicrobial susceptibility patterns and plasmid profiles. Limited access to soap and running water for handwashing was one of the few sanitary deficits noted at this gathering.

My high school used to serve canned potatoes and they tasted like metal.

A non-cooking co-worker buys canned whole potatoes by the caseload. She heats them, then she eats them with butter, salt and pepper. She says her late mother (who couldn't cook either) always did the same thing.

I tasted one to see what they are like. They contain calcium chloride to keep them from turning to mush, but it gives them a weird flavor and texture.

Thanks, R44, that is scary and disgusting!

My mom used canned (in metal store-bought cans) potatoes in the 70s. I remember her making home fries with peppers and onions. Years later I bought some and recreated her dish and they were nasty. Weird taste and texture. Real potatoes are so cheap, why buy canned?

It was the deviled eggs, sitting in the sun. Yum!

Home canning is scary, you don't want to eat something canned by someone who doesn't adhere to safe practices, botulism will fuck you up but good. Even if you live, you'll be really sick.

Omg, uncooked tofu salad is sooo Michfest.

'Mormons aren't embarrassed by their food. To the contrary, they seem to take an enormous amount of pride in what they can do with horse hooves.'

So this is why most of food bloggers are Mormon.

R52 typo - Add 'the' between of and food.

"Maybe a Mormon? Isn't home canning/jarring big with them?"

I was reading a book about the Susan Powell case you know, she was the young Mormon mother who disappeared in Utah in 2009. Her psychotic husband almost certainly killed her but he was never charged he ended up killing their two small sons and himself in a murder/suicide. Anyway, her crazy hubby gave her little money (he spent money like water) so she had to do what she could to provide food for her boys. She baked her own bread (they had a stockpile of wheat) and tended a garden and canned what she grew. She knitted and was into scrapbooking. It does seem that all those domestic chores and pastimes were typical of a young Mormon wife and mother, although in her case they were taken to an extreme due to her crazy husband's behavior.

I've used canned potatoes for a quick mashed potato fix. Just dice them, add some butter + salt. Into the microwave for two minutes and mash.

Oh for fuck's sake, R55, just buy Bob Evans mashed potatoes in the refrigerator section.

Microwaved, canned potatoes. Wow. I can't believe how sad some of you are.

R44 reminds me of a story on one of the Michfest threads about a womon of size who shat diarrhea into ziplock bags so she didn't have to leave her tent.

How did Michfest not get sued after the shigella outbreak? Were the organizers savvy enough to include indemnifying language when tickets were purchased? Any restaurant would have gone out of business.

In fairness, the younger dykewomyn probably thought "Shigella" was the name of a performer.

Tofu=death. (And here we thought it was squirrels.)

You've all had worse things in your mouth.

[quote]You've all had worse things in your mouth.

No, sorry, R62, there's nothing worse than canners' thickened canning potato juices coagulated to such an impenetrable sluice for your dept.

(the one we know you to work for) can't identify the contained biological agents and slime so well.

Were they served funeral potatoes?

Apostolics are a plague on the country.

Thanks for the memories of last year, when this was posted.

A nice guy where I work is leaving this week (he got a better job). They're taking him out to lunch. I would have gone but they're going to go to a church luncheon. The things are the menu are a cheese soufflé and "coronation chicken salad." As much as I the guy what's leaving, I'm not going to any damn church luncheon. And they're serving chicken salad? You talk about potato salad causing food poisoning I think it's chicken salad that you really have to worry about.


CDC Weighs in in Deadly Ohio Botulism Outbreak

Among 77 persons who consumed potluck food, 25 (33%) met the confirmed case definition, and four (5%) met the probable case definition. The median age of patients was 64 years (range = 9–87 years) 17 (59%) were female. Among 26 (90%) patients who reported onset dates, illness began a median of 2 days after the potluck (range = 1–6 days).

Twenty-seven of the 29 patients initially went to FMC. Twenty-two (76%) patients were transferred from FMC to six hospitals in the Columbus metropolitan area approximately 30 miles away these transfers required substantial and rapid coordination. Twenty-five (86%) patients received botulinum antitoxin, and 11 (38%) required endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation no other patients died. Within 1 week of the first patient’s arrival at the emergency department, 16 patients (55%) had been discharged. Among 19 cases that were laboratory-confirmed, serum and stool specimens were positive for botulinum neurotoxin type A or Clostridium botulinum type A.

Interviews were conducted with 75 of 77 persons who ate any of the 52 potluck foods. Consumption of any potato salad (homemade or commercial) yielded the highest association with probable or confirmed case status (risk ratio [RR] = 13.9 95% confidence interval [CI] = 4.6–41.8), followed by homemade potato salad (RR = 9.1 CI = 3.9–21.2). Of 12 food specimens collected from the church dumpster, six were positive for botulinum neurotoxin type A five contained potato salad and one contained macaroni and cheese that might have been contaminated after being discarded.

The attendee who prepared the potato salad with home-canned potatoes reported using a boiling water canner, which does not kill C. botulinum spores, rather than a pressure canner, which does eliminate spores (2). In addition, the potatoes were not heated after removal from the can, a step that can inactivate botulinum toxin. The combined evidence implicated potato salad prepared with improperly home-canned potatoes, a known vehicle for botulism (3).

This was the largest botulism outbreak in the United States in nearly 40 years (Table). Early recognition of the outbreak by an astute clinician and a rapid, coordinated response likely reduced illness severity and facilitated early hospital discharge. This outbreak response illustrates the benefits of coordination among responders during botulism outbreaks. Close adherence to established home-canning guidelines can prevent botulism and enable safe sharing of home-canned produce (2).


Potato Salad Link in Ohio Botulism Outbreak

21 Confirmed Cases with One Death and 10 Suspected Cases

Based on laboratory tests and interviews with potluck attendees, public health officials have concluded that potato salad made with home-canned potatoes is the likely cause of a foodborne botulism outbreak following a church potluck in Lancaster on April 19.

Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by certain kinds of bacteria.

As of today, there are 21 confirmed cases of botulism associated with this outbreak, including one death. There are 10 suspected cases in which the individuals are exhibiting symptoms consistent with botulism. Patients have been treated with a botulism antitoxin provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 12 remain hospitalized.

“This is a difficult time for our community, and our thoughts and prayers are with the affected individuals and their families,” said Mark Aebi, M.D., Health Commissioner & Medical Director for Fairfield Department of Health. “I want to thank our staff for their dedication and hard work during this outbreak as well as the tremendous support we have received from ODH and the CDC. FMC’s rapid assessment and participation in this response has been invaluable as well.”

Mary DiOrio, M.D., Medical Director of the Ohio Department of Health, noted the local, state and federal collaboration in responding to the outbreak. The response involved public health including Fairfield Department of Health, Ohio Department of Health, and CDC, as well as central Ohio hospitals including Fairfield Medical Center.

“I want to thank my colleagues in these public health agencies and hospitals for the tremendous work that they have done to treat individuals who have been sickened, and to investigate and control the outbreak,” she said.

Bill Marler is an accomplished personal injury lawyer and national expert on foodborne illness litigation. He began representing victims of foodborne illness in 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7&hellip

Bill Marler is an accomplished personal injury lawyer and national expert on foodborne illness litigation. He began representing victims of foodborne illness in 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, resulting in her landmark $15.6 million settlement. Marler founded Food Safety News in 2009.

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About Bill Marler

Bill Marler is an accomplished personal injury and products liability attorney. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.


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LANCASTER, Ohio (CNN)– Local and state health officials say potato salad made with home-canned potatoes is to blame for the more than 20 cases of botulism in Lancaster, Ohio, last week. All of those who are sick ate at a potluck dinner at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church on April 19.

Health officials tested leftover food samples obtained from the trash and interviewed ill patients to determine what common food all of them ate.

As of Tuesday, there were 21 confirmed cases of botulism and 10 more suspected cases, according to Ohio Department of Health spokesperson Shannon Libby. That includes the death of a 54-year-old woman. The ill patients were treated at area hospitals with an antitoxin from the Strategic National Stockpile provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Foodborne outbreaks of botulism infecting two or more people happen almost every year, according to the CDC, and they are usually caused by home-canned foods.

Local health officials stressed the importance of using a pressure canner or cooker when canning foods at home because the pressure kills the germ that causes botulism.

Botulism is not contagious and only affects those who consume the contaminated food. Its symptoms typically begin anywhere from 18 to 36 hours of consuming tainted food. It can cause paralysis, double vision, difficulty swallowing and respiratory failure.

According to the CDC, there are an average of 145 cases of botulism a year and 15% of them are foodborne.

Dr. Mark Aebi, Health Commissioner and Medical Director at the Fairfield County Department of Health said in a statement: “This is a difficult time for our community, and our thoughts and prayers are with the affected individuals and their families.”


Potato salad likely source of deadly botulism at Ohio church potluck dinner

LANCASTER, Ohio (AP) — Health officials say the likely source of the botulism outbreak that killed one person and sickened many others at an Ohio church potluck dinner was home-canned potatoes used in a potato salad.

The Ohio Department of Health said Monday that testing has narrowed the source to potato salad served at the April 19 potluck at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, which is southeast of Columbus.

A 55-year-old woman died, and officials have confirmed 20 other botulism cases, along with 10 suspected cases. A dozen people are still in the hospital. Patients have been treated with a botulism antitoxin provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by certain kinds of bacteria.


Ohio botulism outbreak could be largest in decades

Severe botulism, the kind that officials suspect killed one person and sent more than a dozen to the hospital in Lancaster this week, is extremely rare, but proper food safety can help keep people safe from all types of bacteria.

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a nerve toxin produced by bacteria. At least 18 cases of suspected botulism were linked to a Sunday potluck at a Lancaster church. That's a huge spike from last year when only two cases of food-borne botulism were reported statewide both were in Hamilton County, Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Michelle LoParo said.

Nationwide, 160 cases of botulism and one related death were reported in 2012, the most recent figures available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three-fourths of those cases involved infants only 25 cases involved food-borne botulism — the suspected cause of illness in Lancaster.

The incident is likely one of the largest U.S. outbreaks in decades. In 1983, 28 people were hospitalized with botulism in Peoria, Illinois, after eating onions on patty-melt sandwiches. In 1978, 34 people became sick with the illness after eating potato or bean salad at a New Mexico restaurant. In 1977, 58 people had botulism after eating home-canned peppers at a Michigan restaurant.

Botulism comes from a group of rod-shaped bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, which can be found in soil and grows best in low-oxygen environments. The bacteria form spores that release a toxin, making people sick. Food infected with the bacteria will not smell or look different, said Shannon Carter, a family and consumer sciences educator at the Ohio State University Extension Office in Fairfield County.

"There's no way to tell and that is the hard part," Carter said.

Symptoms of botulism include double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and muscle weakness. They typically begin 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food, according to the CDC. Severe botulism can lead to respiratory failure and death.

The most susceptible individuals are children, older adults, pregnant women and the chronically ill, Carter said.

Most cases of food-borne botulism are linked to home-canned foods with low acid content, according to the CDC. Of the four outbreaks reported in 2012, one came from home-canned beets, another from home-canned pasta with meat sauce and two from pruno, an illicit alcohol brewed by prisoners. The state health department and Fairfield Department of Health are working together to determine the source of the botulism outbreak in Lancaster.

Food like vegetables, meat and soups are more susceptible to contamination because they have less acid. The only way to keep those foods safe during the home-canning process is to use a pressure canner, which can reach 240 degrees to destroy spores. Canning in a water bath, which is fine for fruit or jams, will not keep low-acid food safe, Carter said.

In addition to pressure canning, individuals should boil home-canned food for 20 minutes before serving them, Carter said.

Carter also advised against following grandma's recipe for canning because food has changed over the years. For example, tomatoes and vinegar are less acidic than they were decades ago, so cooks might have to add lemon juice to keep recipes safe.

"We need to use current recipes for home-canned foods that have been tested rigorously," Carter said.

Canned products purchased at a store are less likely to cause botulism because commercial canners reach higher temperatures and are less susceptible to human error, Carter said. However, consumers still should check cans before using them and toss any products that are bulging, swollen or out-of-date, she added.

Given how rare botulism is, potluck attendees are much more likely to go home with a stomachache from E.coli, Salmonella or Listeria. But those bacteria can be prevented by keeping food properly heated or cooled.

Food should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours to avoid bacteria. The food danger zone is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so hot food should be kept warmer than 140 degrees and cold food should be kept cooler than 40 degrees, Carter said. On a hot summer day, food should not be left outside for more than one hour, she advised.

"Bacteria multiplies rapidly in that danger zone," Carter said. A food-safe thermometer is the only way to know for certain how warm or cold the food is.

• Avoid cross-contamination of raw meat and other food such as vegetables. Use a different cutting board or be sure to wash the whole area thoroughly.

• Cook food at proper temperatures. Meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

• Never taste food to see if it is safe, especially if it comes from a container that is leaking, has bulges or looks damaged.


1 dead after suspected botulism outbreak in Ohio

A man carries a box of food from the Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church to a Fairfield County (Ohio) Health Department truck Wednesday, April 22, 2015, in Lancaster, Ohio. More than a dozen people are in area hospitals and one person is dead after a suspected botulism outbreak that's been traced back to a lunch Sunday, April 19, 2015, at the church. (Photo: Matthew Berry, Lancaster (Ohio) Eagle-Gazette)

LANCASTER, Ohio — Severe botulism, the kind that Ohio health officials suspect killed one person and sent more than a dozen to the hospital in Lancaster this week, is extremely rare, but proper food safety can help keep people safe from all types of bacteria.

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a nerve toxin produced by bacteria. At least 22 cases of suspected botulism are linked to a Sunday potluck at a Lancaster church.

The Ohio Department of Health said five others are under observation but are not showing symptoms.

Kennetha "Kim" Shaw, 55, of Rushville, Ohio, was identified Thursday as the victim who died after the potluck by John Bope, director of the Bope-Thomas Funeral Home.

The health department said the cases are suspected and not yet confirmed.

"We're pretty sure it's botulism," said Dr. Andrew Murry of Fairfield Medical Center. "But until all the testing comes back, it's presumed botulism."

Nationwide, 160 cases of botulism and one related death were reported in 2012, the most recent figures available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three-fourths of those cases involved infants only 25 cases involved food-borne botulism — the suspected cause of illness in Lancaster.

The incident is likely one of the largest U.S. outbreaks in decades. In 1983, 28 people were hospitalized with botulism in Peoria, Ill., after eating onions on patty-melt sandwiches. In 1978, 34 people became sick with the illness after eating potato or bean salad at a New Mexico restaurant. In 1977, 58 people had botulism after eating home-canned peppers at a Michigan restaurant.

Botulism comes from a group of rod-shaped bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, which can be found in soil and grows best in low-oxygen environments. The bacteria form spores that release a toxin, making people sick. Food infected with the bacteria will not smell or look different, said Shannon Carter, a family and consumer sciences educator at the Ohio State University Extension Office in Fairfield County.

One person is dead and more than a dozen people are in area hospitals after an outbreak of botulism that has been traced back to a lunch Sunday, April 19, 2015, at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, Ohio. (Photo: Matthew Berry, Lancaster (Ohio) Eagle-Gazette)

"There's no way to tell and that is the hard part," said Carter.

Symptoms of botulism include double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and muscle weakness. They typically begin 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food, according to the CDC. Severe botulism can lead to respiratory failure and death.

The most susceptible individuals are children, older adults, pregnant women and the chronically ill, Carter said.

About 50 to 60 people attended the Sunday potluck lunch at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church.

Botulism is not contagious, so there is no threat to the community.

Murry called the incident an outbreak, but said it is an isolated one.

"Botulism is not contagious," he said. "Unless you ate the food at the potluck meeting, you are not in danger."

"The patients were all presented with symptoms that are very typical for botulism and within an 18- to 36-hour window after consuming the contaminated food," Murry said. "Their symptoms included double vision, blurred vision, droopy eyelids and difficulty swallowing."

Ohio Department of Health spokesman Russ Kennedy said the hospitals that are treating patients have received doses of the antitoxin needed to treat the victims and reduce their recovery time.

Most cases of food-borne botulism are linked to home-canned foods with low acid content, according to the CDC. Of the four outbreaks reported in 2012, one came from home-canned beets, another from home-canned pasta with meat sauce and two from pruno, an illicit alcohol brewed by prisoners.

The Ohio health department and Fairfield County Department of Health are working together to determine the source of the botulism outbreak in Lancaster.

&ldquoThe patients were all presented with symptoms that are very typical for botulism and within an 18- to 36-hour window after consuming the contaminated food.&rdquo

Dr. Andrew Murry, Fairfield Medical Center

The Fairfield County Department of Health took food samples from a Dumpster used at the lunch, as well as retrieved some of the food from the Dumpsters.

Pastor Bill Pitts of Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church said Tuesday that the lunch was like any other at the church.

"Everyone is trying to find the common thread," he said. "My heart is crying, and I pray for the people and their families."

Jennifer Valentine, a county health department spokeswoman, said, "We're kind of looking at anything made with home-canned foods."

Food like vegetables, meat and soups are more susceptible to contamination because they have less acid. The only way to keep those foods safe during the home-canning process is to use a pressure canner, which can reach 240 degrees to destroy spores. Canning in a water bath, which is fine for fruit or jams, will not keep low-acid food safe, Carter said.

In addition to pressure canning, individuals should boil home-canned food for 20 minutes before serving them, Carter said.

Canned products purchased at a store are less likely to cause botulism because commercial canners reach higher temperatures and are less susceptible to human error, Carter said. However, consumers still should check cans before using them and toss any products that are bulging, swollen or out-of-date, she added.

Given how rare botulism is, potluck attendees are much more likely to go home with a stomachache from E.coli, salmonella or listeria. But those bacteria can be prevented by keeping food properly heated or cooled.

Food should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours to avoid bacteria. The food danger zone is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so hot food should be kept warmer than 140 degrees and cold food should be kept cooler than 40 degrees, Carter said. On a hot summer day, food should not be left outside for more than one hour, she advised.

"Bacteria multiplies rapidly in that danger zone," Carter said. A food-safe thermometer is the only way to know for certain how warm or cold the food is.


Watch the video: International Potluck Dinner