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Medicine: Warning

2 minute read

This year’s outburst of home canning recently brought loud warnings against botulism*— an often fatal form of food poisoning — from the health departments of New York and California. The poison which causes botulism is produced by the Bacillus botulinus, which flourishes only where there is no air, as inside a sealed jar or can.

These bacteria get on food from garden soil. In home canning, they can be destroyed only by the prolonged high temperatures which pressure cookers attain. But destroying the poison which the bacilli secrete is much easier. Method: boil canned foods for at least 15 minutes after removing them from containers. “This must be done,” insists the California State Department of Health, “because it is not possible to tell that the food is capable of causing botulism by looking at it or smelling it. If the food is poisonous, even the tiniest amount may cause death.”

Botulism is much commoner in California than in the East. It is distinguished from other forms of food poisoning by:

> A prolonged incubation period—often a whole week may elapse between consumption of the poisoned food and the appearance of symptoms.

> Relatively mild gastrointestinal symptoms.

> Its specific attack on the nervous system, causing muscular weakness, visual disorders, loss of ability to speak and swallow. Unless an antitoxic serum is administered, death from respiratory paralysis usually follows.

*From botulus, Latin for sausage, in which the botulistic bacteria may also flourish.

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