1 Person Dead & 23 Hospitalized Following Church Potluck

potluck

Could this happen at your next picnic? One person died and at least 23 people fell sick with botulism symptoms following a church potluck at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, Ohio. Five of those sick are in critical condition. Local officials are investigating the cause of the outbreak.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, botulism is "a paralytic disease caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum" among other bacterial strains. There are five kinds of botulism, including foodborne botulism. Symptoms include "double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness," and typically appear about 18 to 36 hours after consuming contaminated food (although they can manifest faster or more slowly than that). Untreated, your body, including respiratory organs, can become paralyzed.

Botulism is not contagious.

One of the best-known sources of botulism contamination is home-canned foods. Low-acid foods, like asparagus, beets, corn, and green beans, and smoked fish are especially vulnerable to contamination. But it can also happen with commercially-produced foods, like chopped garlic in oil, tomatoes, or cheese sauce.

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This is why it's so important for home canners to follow safety guidelines carefully. The USDA has a complete guide to home canning that gives you temperatures and times for all kind of food, from fruit to vegetables, meats to jams. People who live in high altitudes (like Colorado) may need to make special adjustments. Contact your local agriculture extension to find out if there are other unique concerns for your area.

As for commercially produced foods, be suspicious of bulging or leaking cans. And obviously you won't want to use anything with an "off" odor.

It's disheartening that such a terrible outbreak happened at a community event where people were sharing food with each other. That's one of our most basic and beloved rituals. But this story should serve as an important reminder that when you bring something to a potluck, it's not just your health you should worry about; it's other people's, too. And that's a good reason to exercise extra caution with your food safety.

Have you ever gotten food poisoning after a potluck meal?

 

Image via © Radius Images/Corbis

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