Following the news that an outbreak of foodborne botulism linked to gas station nachos sickened 10 people and led to one death, it’s worth brushing up on the symptoms of botulism. A rather uncommon paralytic illness, botulism may result from a number of different situations; the foodborne variety is caused by “the consumption of foods containing pre-formed botulinum toxin,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although it can be treated, it can also be fatal in three to five percent of cases. Knowing what to look for is therefore essential in ensuring that treatment can be administered in a timely fashion.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) confirmed on Monday that nacho cheese sauce sold at a gas station in Sacramento County, Calif. tested positive for the nerve toxin responsible for botulism. Following reports of the outbreak, health officials impounded some food items from the gas station, including four bags of nacho cheese sauce from Gehl Foods, according to NPR. The risk is not ongoing.
“We were notified by the FDA that Gehl Foods' nacho cheese was among the products seized at the Walnut Grove gas station during inspection,” says Gehl Foods CEO Eric Beringause in a statement provided to Bustle. "We immediately retested samples from the relevant lot of cheese, and it remains clear of any contamination. To ensure the integrity of those test results, we also sent multiple samples to an independent lab, which confirmed our findings.”
Gehl Foods is working closely with health authorities at the federal, state, and local levels in order to determine what may have caused this specific outbreak of botulism on site. According to the CDPH, there is “no continuing risk to the public”; the cheese sauce was removed from sale on May 5, so it’s well out of circulation. Says Beringause in a statement, “Gehl’s facilities remain safe for food production and all of our food samples continue to test negative for any contaminants. There is no recall of Gehl's nacho cheese product.”
Said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith in a press release, “While there are still unanswered questions about this outbreak, these tragic illnesses are important reminders to be vigilant about food safety. As we head into the summer barbecue season, both indoor and outdoor chefs need to be on guard against all foodborne illnesses.”
And she’s absolutely right. Although botulism is rare, being able to identify the symptoms could make a real difference. Foodborne botulism results a little more commonly from home-canned food, although it’s not unheard of for it to appear as a result of retail products, too. (Worth noting: It's not contagious; it can't be transmitted from person to person.) Here’s what to look out for.
1Symptoms Of Foodborne Botulism Typically Emerge In Just A Few Days
The Mayo Clinic notes that when the symptoms start might range from anywhere between a few hours after the toxin gets into your body to several days afterwards, depending on how much of it you’ve ingested; usually, though, they start to surface somewhere between the 12- and 36-hour marks. The CDPH gets a little more specific, stating that “symptoms can occur as early as six hours or as late as 10 days later”; meanwhile, FoodSafety.gov describes foodborne botulism’s incubation period in children and adults as 12 to 72 hours.
2The First Thing You’ll Probably Notice is Feeling Really, Really Tired
Fatigue, general weakness, and vertigo are usually the first symptoms to appear, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). So if you’re feeling inexplicably exhausted or kind of dizzy, it’s worth looking into why that might be.
3Your Vision Might Be Affected
Botulism affects your muscles — and that includes your eyes, which have six muscles in the socket to help you move your peepers around. With foodborne botulism, you might experience double vision, blurred vision, or drooping eyelids, according to the CDC.
4Your Mouth Might Feel Weird
The CDC notes that slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and dry mouth may also occur as a symptom of foodborne botulism.
5Breathing Might Get Tough
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath can be a symptom of foodborne botulism, according to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
6You Might Experience Some Gastrointestinal Unpleasantness
Vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal swelling: Not fun, and also symptoms to look out for with regards to foodborne botulism, according to WHO.
7Your Temperature Will Probably Stay The Same
With foodborne botulism in particular, you probably won’t experience a fever or any spikes or drops in body temperature as a result. However, the Mayo Clinic notes that fever might sometimes occur with wound botulism — that is, the kind of botulism resulting from a wound becoming infected with the bacteria that produce the nerve toxin that causes all the problems. The source and cause of the illness matters.
8Your Blood Pressure And Heart Rate Likely Won’t Be Affected
These two are also among the conditions that are not symptoms of foodborn botulism, according to the Mayo Clinic.
9Symptoms Can Get Pretty Severe
This may not be terribly surprising in light of everything else we’ve talked about so far, but if the illness progresses, the CDPHA notes, paralysis of the arms, legs, and trunk are possible.
Again, it’s worth stressing that botulism is pretty rare; however, if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s still worth getting yourself checked out by a doctor. Even if it’s not botulism, it could be something else; it’s always better to get a professional opinion than to ignore it and hope it’ll go away on its own. If you’re having trouble accessing health care services, here are a few resources that are either free or low-cost.
Take care of yourselves, everyone.