There has been a lot of news recently about a certain gas station in California that happened to sell a certain pasteurized process cheese product of the nacho variety that happened to contain the Clostridium botulinum bacterium and that also happened to kill someone and send nine others to the hospital. Now there are many myths about dying from eating gas station nacho cheese going back to ancient Babylonian times, but when human lives are on the line it’s time to separate the fact from the fiction and let you know the skinny on Botulism. Also, what are you doing eating nacho cheese from a gas station to begin with?
WHAT IS BOTULISM?
Botulism is a foodborne illness first documented in a case of some tainted sausages in 1820, but to quote Wikipedia and save you from having to type in the word and look it up yourself, “Botulism is a rare and potentially fatal illness caused by a toxin, produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.” Interestingly enough “Clostridium Botulinum” is also the bacterium that produces Botulinum, the most acutely lethal toxin known to man, and where Botox (Botulinum Toxin = Botox) comes from. While Gwyneth Paltrow may disagree with Botox being a toxin, Martin Galindo, the man who died from eating Botulism tainted nacho cheese assuredly does not. While Botulism might not kill a lot of people, only about 20 per year, it still kills people. You don’t want to get it.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website (that’s the leading national public health institute in the United States, btw) the “classic” symptoms of Botulism include:
- Double Vision
- Blurred Vision
- Drooping Eyelids
- Slurred Speech
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Dry Mouth
- Muscle Weakness
As you can probably guess from knowing how Botox works, Botulism causes muscle paralysis. While the above could also be the symptoms of your typical drunk, is the case of actual Botulism they could progress to cause paralysis in fun places such as all the other muscles in your body, including the oft used respiratory ones. In the foodborne variety of the illness usually there are signs 18 to 36 hours after eating the tainted food, but it can range from 6 hours to 10 days, so don’t get too comfortable.
HOW DO I AVOID IT?
Well, avoiding gas station nachos is a good start, but that is wisdom that should be treated as common fact and not directly related to avoiding Botulism outbreaks. There are a few different kinds of Botulism out there, such as wound or infant related, but we’re only concerned about the foodborne one here, though check back later for further PSA’s on the others. When it comes to avoiding toxic food, a few things to keep in mind:
- You can get it from canned food, so if you find a canned item that’s swollen or squirty or foamy when you open it, toss that baby ou. Also, why would you ever eat a can of foamy food?
- If you’re home canning, either because you are an awesome grandma or some cool hipster, eat your food within a year of canning it up. Granted in a post apocalyptic scenario, which is the only thing people can for as I understand it, you might not have a choice of being so picky, but between dying of Botulism or being killed and eaten by a cannibalistic Super Mutant...
- If you have a food low in acid such as seafood, meat, potatoes, green beans, beets, asparagus, boil it for 10 minutes before nomming down on it. Boiling it should take care of any nasty old toxins lying around.
I ATE GAS STATION NACHO CHEESE AND NOW I HAVE BOTULISM, WHAT DO I DO?
For the gas station in question the California Department of Public Health fortunately removed the toxic cheese on Cinco de Mayo, which is like removing Botulism ladened Peeps on Easter, so that being 20 days ago you’d know if you caught it from there by now. If you caught it some other way you should consult a healthcare provider or go to the emergency room immediately. There is an antitoxin, but even with that it can still be weeks or months for your paralysis to improve. Also in 3 to 5 percent of cases even with all our fancy medical advances the patient will still die, but that’s down from half the people who caught Botulism dying that was the reality 50 years ago, so progress!
Botulism is not fun. You don’t want to get it. Don’t eat nacho cheese from a gas station. The more you know.