You probably know this disease as botulism. Have you heard that if you find a can with swollen ends, it means the food inside it is bad? It turns out that is true! The ends of the can have swollen due to the gases that are produced by bacteria growing inside. The bacteria is probably C. botulinum. Fortunately, this is a very rare disease. If you should ever find a can in this condition, throw it away! Don’t ever open it, because the bacteria produce spores, which can become air borne. Nasty little buggers!
Botulism can affect anyone, from infants on up. it’s a good thing that it is rare, because it is also deadly. If it’s diagnosed and treated quickly, it is survivable, although the recovery may take months for some people. The fatality rate is high though, as C. bot forms a toxin which is fast-acting.
The onset time can be as fast as four hours, although the typical time to see symptoms is about 8 to 36 hours. As with most toxins, many of the symptoms are neurological. With botulinum toxin, paralysis is what will eventually cause death. It moves “top – down”, starting with eyes and face, to chest, to the extremities (arms and legs). A person may experience droopy eyes, slurred speech, trouble swallowing, muscle weakness, constipation, and swollen abdomen. Death is caused by paralysis of the respiratory muscles, as breathing becomes impossible.
The spores of C bot can be found in the soil, water and in some animals. They are consumed through food usually by way of improperly canned food, especially food that is low in acidity. This includes a variety of foods; some are corn, asparagus, olives, green beans, tuna fish, sausage, soups and many others. Another source of C bot is honey. The spores are naturally present in honey, but do not cause a problem for adults. However, the acidity of infants’ stomachs is much lower than adults, and they are not able to digest the honey safely. For this reason, infants under one year should NEVER be fed honey, as they may become seriously ill from botulism.
The best prevention for C. botulinum is to use great care when home canning foods. Follow all safety and sanitation precautions carefully. Incidents of commercially canned foods containing botulism are very uncommon, although they have happened. Never feed honey to babies less than one year of age.
Here is a great link for home canning guidelines: