How to Recognize Botulism Symptoms If You’ve Eaten Contaminated Products
A good queso dip is crucial when it comes to whipping up a delicious batch of nachos, but if you’ve indulged over the past few weeks, recent news from Taco Bell may seem pretty scary.
Earlier this week, Kraft Heinz announced a recall of nearly 7,000 cases of Taco Bell Salsa Con Queso Mild Cheese Dip that showed signs of “product separation” that could lead to the growth of a certain kind of bacteria that causes botulism. The recall is confined to products that were distributed in the United States.
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“We deeply regret this situation and apologize to any consumers we have disappointed,” Kraft Heinz wrote in a statement on their website.
The potentially fatal form of food poisoning results from the growth of Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum), the United States Center for Disease Control states. Normally, the spores that result from this strain of bacteria won’t cause illness, even if eaten. However, in certain conditions — like improperly home-canned, preserved, or fermented foods — these spores can morph into a protein called botulinum toxin. Eating foods with this toxin can result in serious illness or even death if not treated quickly.
While no consumer complaints or reports of illnesses have been reported as a result of the Taco Bell recall, the risk is understandably serious. You can see the full list, code dates, and UPC numbers of the affected products here. If you are worried that you have consumed a contaminated product, here’s what you need to know to keep yourself and your kids safe:
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Symptoms of Foodborne Botulism
Once a food contaminated with botulinum toxin is consumed, it begins to attack the body’s nerves, making it difficult to breathe and causing muscle paralysis, explains the CDC.
In the case of the Taco Bell recall, the main concern is people becoming ill by consuming botulinum toxin, but it’s worth noting that botulism can also occur if certain bacterias infect an open wound, get into the intestines of child or adults, or if too much botulinum toxin (Botox) is injected for cosmetic reasons.
In general, botulism is pretty rare. In 2015, there was a total of 199 confirmed cases in the United States, according to the CDC. Of that number, only 20% of cases were caused by foodborne contamination. If you eat food contaminated with botulinum toxin, symptoms will usually show within 18 to 36 hours, but they can start as soon as six hours after or up to 10 days later.
Here are the symptoms* to look out for:
• Double vision
• Blurred vision
• Drooping eyelids
• Slurred speech
• Difficulty swallowing
• A thick-feeling tongue
• Dry mouth
• Muscle weakness
*It is always important to check with your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms as they could indict botulism, another disease/illness, or nothing serious at all.
How Is Foodborne Botulism Diagnosed?
If you or someone you know shows symptoms of botulism you should go to a doctor or emergency room, immediately.
Foodborne botulism is typically treated by clearing out the digestive system, so your doctor may give you medication that induces vomiting or bowel movements. Other forms of healing include injected antitoxins that prevent the toxins in your bloodstream from further harming your nerves.
Most people diagnosed with botulism are able to make a full recovery, however it can take months of rehabilitation therapy and breathing assistance to improve speech, swallowing, and other issues caused by the disease.
How Can I Prevent Foodborne Botulism?
Start by throwing away any recalled products or returning them to your grocery store for a full refund. But also know that if you can, preserve, or ferment your foods at home, you are at a higher risk of getting infected with botulism.
The CDC recommends taking the following precautions at home to lessen your risk:
• Follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s safe home canning instructions.
• Always wash, clean, and sterilize items used in canning according to instructions.
• Use pressurized canners for low-acid foods like potatoes, most other vegetables, and meats.
• Refrigerate homemade oils infused with garlic or herbs for no longer than 4 days.
• Keep potatoes that were wrapped in aluminum foil while baking at temperatures above 140°F until eating, or refrigerate them with the foil loosened.