Botulism Outbreak: Valley Oak Food and Fuel

Ten people were hospitalized in a botulism outbreak linked to nacho cheese sauce prepared and sold at Valley Oak Food and Fuel, a gas station in Walnut Grove, CA, in April 2017. Our law firm is representing a woman sickened in this outbreak.

Read About the Bad Bug Law Team’s current investigation here: “Valley Oak Food and Fuel Linked to Botulism, Law Firm Investigating.”

Sacramento County Public Health, which made the connection between the illnesses and the gas station, is working closely with the Sacramento County Department of Environmental Management to stop the sale of prepared food items at this location.

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Botulism Outbreak Investigations in the United States

Clostridium Botulinum from the CDCThere are 10 to 30 botulism cases in the United States each year. This illness is caused by ingestion of food contaminated with Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which produces a toxin that causes botulism. Determining the source of an outbreak is based on detection and identification of the toxin in food.

The most widely accepted method used to determine if the toxin is in food is to inject extracts of the food into passively immunized mice (mouse neutralization test). It takes about 48 hours to determine if a mouse got sick from the food. This analysis is followed by culturing all suspect food in an enrichment medium for the detection and isolation of Clostridium botulinum. This test takes 7 days, which is why the mouse test is done first. If a doctor suspects botulism, the patient will need to be treated before a confirmed diagnosis. If not, he or she could die. This is an extremely dangerous pathogen.

If two or more people in the U.S. are diagnosed with botulism food poisoning, state and federal health officials try to determine if the illnesses are related and, if so, try to find the food responsible. Because the incubation period is short, a food source is more easily determined.

Most outbreaks are associated with inadequately-processed, home-canned foods, but commercially-produced food products have caused illness. Two separate outbreaks of botulism have occurred involving commercially canned salmon. Restaurant foods such as sautéed onions, chopped bottled garlic, potato salad made from baked potatoes, and baked potatoes themselves have been sources. Also, smoked fish, both hot and cold-smoked, have been implicated.


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