It is important to note that food-borne botulism is becoming uncommon but can still occur with incorrectly preserved food such as beans. The botulinum toxin is responsible for causing severe illness with paralysis that can result to long-term illness or death. Correct handling of food and preservation drastically reduces the risk of exposure to botulism poisoning.
Close look on clostridium botulinum
Botulism is a condition caused by the nerve toxin generated by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum that is widely found in soil as well as in the bottom of streams. Most cases of food-borne botulism occur yearly due to home canned foods such as green beans and other vegetables.
Even minimal traces of the toxin can cause severe symptoms that usually start within 6-36 hours of consuming contaminated food. The initial symptoms of botulism include blurry or double vision, slurred speech, drooping eyelids and muscle weakness followed by paralysis and respiratory failure in severe cases. With the advancements in the medical field today, the fatality rate drastically reduced.
What are high-risk food sources?
When it comes to food-borne botulism, it often occurs after eating incorrectly preserved foods that contain the botulinum toxin. Almost any food that came in contact with soil could carry the bacteria, but incorrectly canned low-acidity vegetables and processed meats promotes the growth of bacteria and poses the highest risk.
Canned garbanzo, green beans, kidney beans, corn, asparagus, olives and herbs are some vegetables that are typically linked to botulism. The C. botulinum bacteria that grows in the food produces toxin but food-borne botulism is not an infection and cannot spread from one individual to another.
Always bear in mind that C. botulinum bacteria and other spores are highly resistant and capable of surviving food processing that would eliminate most types of bacteria. Irregular or incomplete heating methods usually in small home kitchens can allow the bacteria to survive and generate toxin in the low-oxygen environment of canned foods.
Correct cooking times, suitable high temperatures, acid pH maintenance of canned food, pressure cooking techniques and use of preservatives are vital in reducing the risk of exposure to botulism.
Measures to reduce the risk for botulism
There are several measures to observe in order to minimize the risk for botulism from canned beans or other foods.
- Clean the food thoroughly before processing or cooking
- Make sure that the recommended processing steps are followed when preserving food.
- Before canned foods are eaten, check the container for leakage, bulging, unusual odor or build-up of pressure. Any strange smell or appearance on the product should prompt you to discard it.
- Cook canned foods for at least 10 minutes at temperatures above 176 degrees F since the botulinum toxin is sensitive to heat.
By following these measures, the risk for botulism from canned beans is drastically reduced as well as with other canned products.