All About Botulism: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

You may not hear a lot about botulism anymore, but it is definitely something you should consider. Botulism is caused by Clostridium botulinum. While the cases of botulism are rare in the United States (less than 400 per year), it is one on the most deadly forms of food poisoning you can encounter.

Botulism is resistant to heat and chemical intervention. In other words, it’s not easy to get rid of it. It also only takes a small amount of it for it to cause havoc in your body. The tiniest nibble of contaminated food is all it takes to endanger your life.

Where Does It Come From?

Botulism is most commonly found in canned foods and soups. The organism cannot survive in an oxygen environment, so it’s not a worry with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. When the contaminated contents are not heated or processed correctly, the organism thrives.


When a person comes into contact with botulism, the organism will affect the central nervous system. This usually happens within twenty-four hours. The most common symptoms are difficulty with swallowing, walking, and speaking. Your vision may become impaired. If not treated, the end result is convulsions, muscle paralysis (particularly in the chest, which leads to suffocation) and death. Death can come in a few days or in a few hours.


Because botulism is so deadly, your best defense is to avoid any possible chances of coming into contact with the organism that causes it. When at all possible, use fresh meats, fruits and vegetables.

When dealing with canned products, keep the following tips in mind.

– Canned goods should never appear to be swollen. If a can appears to be bulging, it should be discarded. When botulism is present, it creates gases, which cause the can or container to swell.
– Throw away any canned foods that appear to be spoiled or ones that might be. Never take a chance.
– If contents of a can seem to come forcefully out of a container when opened, discard.
– Never taste food to see if it’s good. When in doubt, throw it out.
– Honey can be dangerous for small children, so refrain from giving it to them.

Home Canning

If you can your own vegetables or meats at home, use extra care to follow specific directions to the letter. Adding a little extra time to the recommended canning time can help ensure that any impurities are boiled away from your canned foods. Never take short cuts, and thoroughly cook home canned foods before eating.


Cases of botulism are treated by an antitoxin. This can be administered by shot or by IV. Treatment is generally effective if the case is caught early enough. If you suspect botulism, it is important to get to the emergency room as soon as humanly possible.

In severe cases, which lead to paralysis, a long hospital stay may be required. Breathing may need to be assisted with the use of a ventilator. In these cases, healing is a long process.

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