You hop on your bike one Saturday afternoon and ride over to the farmers market. You love to support the local economy. You're happy to get fresh, farm-grown foods. You can't believe how many people eat processed foods, but you're not going to put that stuff in your body. The farmers' market is the perfect way to find the food you really want.
While you're there, you find a great variety of foods, canned by an artisan food producer. You pick up as many as you can carry on your bike, pay for them, and ride home. You're thrilled about how well you're going to be eating for the foreseeable future. Canned foods give you a lot of options and they offer you healthy meals prepared by someone who has the same values that you do about environmentalism, food culture and sustainable living.
But have you accidentally put yourself at risk? And just how great is that risk?
One of the risks of eating canned food is that it could lead to a very specific type of food poisoning called botulism. Active clostridium botulinum in canned food produces hazardous toxins that attack your nerves.
You may have heard of this under another name: Kerner's Disease. This outdated name for the same issue comes from an incident in Germany where contaminated sausage led to a rash of deaths. The man who signed their death certificates gave the disease its name.
That shows you how serious this can be. While it's not guaranteed to be fatal, it often is. How can a type of food poisoning be so dangerous?
The problem is that the toxins target your nerves, and that can lead to muscle paralysis. This does not just mean you cannot move. It can actually paralyze the muscles you need to use for critical functions, like breathing. Slowly, breathing becomes more and more difficult. Left untreated, the condition may make it impossible for you to breathe at all, and you'll pass away.
The main way to stop botulism is just by cooking things at a high enough temperature before canning them. This is known as a "botulinum cook," and it is mandatory for commercial goods. For at least 180 seconds, the temperature has to reach 250 degrees.
The problem is that you do not know how hot the cooking got for your items from the farmers' market. Ideally, they also boiled things at a high enough temperature, but what if they only hit 240 degrees or only kept it going for 60 seconds? That could put you in serious danger.
If you suffer any type of food poisoning, but especially something so serious that it's potentially fatal, be sure you know what legal options you have.