Botulism Outbreak in California Shows the Danger of Food at Family Events

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Jul 05, 2024

Public health officials in California are warning the public about an outbreak of botulism at a family event.

State regulators are sounding the alarm bells that eating food left out for more than two hours at a family event is an incredible easy way to contract food poisoning.

Officials Working Together to Find the Source

On the dates of June 21 and 22 in Clovis, California, several family members became ill with a severe case of botulism poisoning.

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Now, staff from the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working together to uncover the specific source of the illness.

The Outbreak Is a Warning

Dr. Rais Vohra, the Interim Health Officer for Fresno County, says that the outbreak of botulism is a stark reminder to follow proper food-safe guidelines at home.

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There are several steps for safety that should be taken when canning food at home and when eating food at a gathering that has been left out for a while.

What Is Botulism?

Botulism is a deadly disease that can be contracted by food that has been improperly stored. Bacteria can easily begin growing inside containers or food left out uncovered for too long.

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It’s a rare but serious condition caused by toxins that attack the body’s nerves. Symptoms can take up to 10 days to appear which is why the disease is so difficult to track.

Proper Guidelines for Canning Food

Unfortunately, botulism is a microscopic bacteria and cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. To avoid getting sick from this deadly toxin, follow the proper guidelines for canning at home.

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Avoid using recipes even from trusted family and friends. Instead, the only way to ensure that your food has been properly sealed is to follow the USDA guide.

Food Safe Rules for Potluck Meals

Any food that has been cooked can easily become toxic when left out at room temperature for two hours or more. This includes meats, cooked pasta, rice, and sides like potato salad and deviled eggs.

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Eggs can be particularly dangerous to eat at a family function. If eggs have been undercooked, they can be extremely dangerous to eat.


Dozens Exposed from One Event

Every year, thousands of people will experience food-related illnesses from eating at family gatherings and potlucks.

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At the event in June, more than 30 people were unlucky enough to contract botulism from a single food item.


Botulism Symtoms

Although they can take up to 10 days to announce themselves, the symptoms of botulism are extremely serious, and anyone experiencing them should seek immediate medical care.

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Some of the early symptoms may include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, drooping eyelids, blurred vision, and difficulty speaking. In rare cases, the illness can result in paralysis and even death.


July 4th Is a Busy Day in Hospitals

On top of regular injuries, the emergency department in a hospital is usually packed on July 4th with people who have suffered from firework accidents, alcohol poisoning, and food poisoning.

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Eating old pasta, potato salad, or meat is one of the major causes of sickness on a day filled with family-friendly get-togethers.


The Risk of Illness Is Higher for Small Children

The risk of becoming sick from contaminated food is much higher for infants, small children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

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It’s often suggested that while pregnant, women should only eat fully cooked food that has been prepared relatively recently. At a potluck, this means cutting the line and getting your plate first if you’re with child.


How To Avoid Spreading Food Poisoning

If you’re the one hosting a family gathering or get-together this weekend, officials suggest setting a timer for all of the cooked food.

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Mostly, cooked food is only safe for two hours after being prepared. After that, it should be refrigerated or thrown out.