Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Babies and Botulism

October 21, 2009

Plum Organics recalled a batch of its Apple & Carrot Portable Pouch baby food (Best Before Date: May 21, 2010) on October 19th after determining that – as the result of a mixing error – the product's acidity level did not meet FDA guidelines. The recall notice cited a risk of botulism.

What does acidity have to do with botulism?

Clostridium botulinum – the microbe that causes botulism – does not grow or produce its deadly toxin in the presence of oxygen, or in acidic foods. Foods that are not very acidic and are packaged in hermetically sealed cans, jars or pouches, are prime environments for the production of botulinum toxin. FDA, therefore, mandates very stringent and specific processing conditions for these "low-acid" foods.

Does the recall mean that this batch of baby food contained Clostridium botulinum or its toxin?

The batch was recalled because its incorrect acidity level nudged it into FDA's "low-acid" category. The recalled batch did not receive adequate heat processing, based on its acidity level. It is very unlikely – although not impossible – that the food actually contained Clostridium botulinum.

It's very unusual for a food processor to test its products directly for Clostridium botulinum. If the food is sufficiently acidic, there is no risk of botulism. If the food is not acidic enough to prevent the microbe from growing, no amount of testing will ensure safety – even one contaminated pouch, can or jar is too many.

Are babies at risk of botulism from any other source?

Infants are at risk of Infant Botulism, a form of botulism that does not occur in older children and adults. Unpasteurized honey, on occasion, may contain spores of Clostridium botulinum. These spores can germinate, grow and produce toxin in the immature digestive tract of babies under 12 months old. The result can be fatal.

What are the symptoms of botulism?

Typical botulism (caused by toxin that is formed in the food before the food is eaten) usually begins to show itself within 18-36 hours after the toxic food has been eaten. A minute amount of toxin is all that is needed to cause illness. Initial symptoms usually are weakness, vertigo and lack of energy. Next to appear are double vision and difficulty in swallowing or speaking. Botulism can end in a fatal paralysis.

Infant botulism (caused by toxin that is produced in the infant's intestinal tract) behaves somewhat differently. The initial symptom usually is constipation, followed by poor feeding, lethargy, weakness and loss of head control. Again, the illness can be fatal.

About the recall

The recalled Plum Organics baby foods were sold only at Toys-R-Us and Babies-R-Us stores. The product can be identified as follows:

Apple & Carrot Baby Food in Portable Pouches with the best by date of May 21, 2010 and UPC code 890180001221. The Best By code is typed in black on the back of the package, on the bottom edge. It reads as MAY2110.

If you have purchased this product, please either discard it or return it to the store for refund. If your baby ate any of the recalled product and begins to display any of the symptoms of botulism, consult your pediatrician immediately.

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