Sometimes the things we love can hurt us the most.
Ten people in California learned this lesson in the worst of ways, after an unfortunate encounter with some nacho cheese sauce. One of the patients has died as a result of the incident, and the other nine were hospitalized.
The ten patrons contracted botulism from the nacho cheese at a gas station outside of Sacramento, California.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released a statement on May 22, confirming that the cheese sauce tested positive for toxins released by the bacteria that cause the illness, and those same toxins were also found in the affected patients.
Nerve toxins released by the bacteria Clostidium botulinum cause the illness, which is usually caused by foods not being properly processed and stored. The toxins are invisible to the naked eye, odorless and tasteless. Symptoms of botulism include blurred vision, slurred speech, dropping eyelids and paralysis—although they may not appear until 18 to 36 hours after the infected food is consumed.
The contaminated cheese was removed from the gas station, and the CDPH doesn’t believe that there is a continued threat to consumers.
Though cases of botulism are rare, with only 3 to 5 percent of cases ending in fatalities, the CDPH still urges consumers to keep an eye out for the effects.
“While there are still unanswered questions about this outbreak, these tragic illnesses are important reminders to be vigilant about food safety,” said Karen Smith, State Public Health Officer and Director of the CDPH.
Specifically, it is important to be aware of the botulinum toxin during the summer months, as outdoor barbecues and canning—which caused the largest outbreak of botulism in 2015 through home-canned potatoes—come to the forefront of many social calendars. You can find tips on how to protect yourself from botulism on the CDC’s website..
Photo: Earls37a, CC-BY
Emma Korstanje is a freelance journalist based out of Athens, GA.