July 2009

 We have not heard this one before, but coming as it does from the pros at Kansas State University you had better listen up.  Here’s what they say:

While buying locally grown fresh or dried herbs at summer markets is an inexpensive way to get acquainted with new flavors, Karen Blakeslee, a K-State Research and Extension food scientist, cautioned consumers about buying oils flavored with herbs.

Such oils are prohibited from sale at farmer’s markets, said Blakeslee, who as coordinator of Extension’s Rapid Response Center spends her working hours answering food and food safety questions. She explained the reason for the ban:

When in a sealed container at room temperature, an oil-based herb mix creates an anaerobic (absence of oxygen) environment that can support the growth of Clostridium botulinum and produce botulism, a toxin that affects the central nervous system and can cause death. Botulism has, for example, occurred with homemade garlic and oil mixtures stored at room temperature.

A flavored vinegar, which has a high acid content, an acidic environment, is not typically a food safety hazard, Blakeslee said.

The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle in Eastern Washington State this week reported on a warning issued by the Okanogan County Public Health Department about food-borne botulism associated with home-canned asparagus.

Arid areas of Eastern Washington are prime growing areas for asparagus and more home-canning is occurring as people try to economize in a tough economy. Food-borne botulism often has been from home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn.

According to the newspaper:

Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum. Food-borne botulism is caused by eating foods that contain the botulism toxin.

It can be especially dangerous since many people can be poisoned by eating contaminated food. An average of 145 cases of botulism are reported each year in the U.S. Of them, about 15 percent are food-borne.

All forms of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies. The classic symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth and muscle weakness, the health district said.
If untreated, the symptoms may progress to cause paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk and respiratory muscles.

Food-borne botulism often has been from home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn.

Read more in the Chronicle.

Utah health officials are worried about the uptick in sales of home-made food from private vehicles that park in commercial parking lots.

The Salt Lake Tribune today reports that concern the public could get botulism at a business parking lot has caused the Bear River Health Department to issue a public warning.

The agency said there is no way to know if food sold from cars, SUVs and trucks are safe because they are not inspected by local or state health authorities.

Utah state law forbids the sale or distribution of home-prepared foods to the public. Bear River officials say sales in Logan business parking lots are brisk.

Health officials have issued a warning over an increase in the number of people selling home-prepared foods from their vehicles in Logan business parking lots.

Health officials advised the public to buy only from permitted establishments or those with temporary food handler permits.

Foods not properly handled or not kept at specific temperatures can cause life-threatening food-borne illnesses including hepatitis A, salmonella, E. coli and botulism.