Food Safety Focus (4th Issue, November 2006) – Food Incident Highlight

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Food Safety Focus (4th Issue, November 2006) – Food Incident Highlight

Botulism and Pasteurized Carrot Juice

Following reports of four cases of botulism in the US, both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) warned the public not to drink Bolthouse Farms Carrot Juice, with "BEST IF USED BY" dates of 11 November 2006 or earlier under Bolthouse Farms, Earthbound Farm and President's Choice brands, in both 450 ml and 1 litre bottles. In response to the incident, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) warned the public not to drink the affected products and urged major local importers and retailers to stop importing or selling the products concerned.

According to the FDA, it appeared to be that the juice the victims drank was not properly refrigerated, which might have allowed the spores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum to grow and produce toxin under anaerobic condition.

Botulism is a rare but serious intoxication which can be caused by ingesting a potent toxin produced by a common soil bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Initial symptoms of botulism include fatigue, weakness, vertigo, usually followed by blurred vision and difficulty in swallowing and speaking, but diarrhoea, vomiting, constipation and abdominal swelling can also occur. Most victims recover, but the recovery period can be up to many months. The disease may cause paralysis and is fatal in 5-10% of cases.

Food that are improperly processed, low acid (e.g. carrot juice), alkaline, pasteurized and lightly cured foods held without refrigeration, especially those that are in airtight packages, are especially high risk. However, the botulism toxin can be destroyed by heat. Instructions must be followed when handling and storing the above high risk food items, as the processing may not be strong enough to destroy the spores of Clostridium botulinum and improper handling may provide the right condition for toxin production.

Members of the trade and the public should obtain juice product from credible sources. It is important to check and observe the storage instructions of juice products. Pasteurized juice must be kept at 4°C or below. Food suppliers and retailers are responsible for ensuring the food items for sale are fit for human consumption.

Readers may visit websites of the CFS, the US FDA and the CFIA for further information.