A rare outbreak of botulinum poisoning linked to a Sacramento-area gas station has resulted in at least five confirmed hospitalizations.
The Sacramento Bee reports that nacho cheese sold at the Valley Oak Food and Fuel gas station is the likely source of the poisoning, which may have also resulted in four additional poisonings of patients currently in medical care. While the case is still under investigation, the gas station’s permit to sell food and drink has been revoked at least until the whole mess is sorted out.
Botulinum poisoning, which stems from the microorganism Clostridium botulinum (CBOT), is among some of the worst food-borne illnesses you can possibly contract. It’s relatively rare, with only 15 confirmed cases occurring in the United States in 2014, but it can be deadly in extremely small doses. Just a few micrograms of the neurotoxins that CBOT excretes are enough to cause poisoning within 18-36 hours of ingestion, resulting in symptoms including weakness, vertigo, double vision, and constipation, along with more severe symptoms such as paralysis and death. Botulinum poisoning has a high mortality rate to begin with, so without the antidote and respiratory support to treat it, death is very likely.
Typically, CBOT grows well in airtight cans that weren’t properly sterilized during processing, making canned nacho cheese sauce a possible culprit in the investigation. If you see a bloated can, it’s a sure sign of CBOT growing in that food, and you should discard of it immediately.
The family of one of the confirmed victims is suing the gas station in Sacramento Superior Court for negligence, product liability, and breach of implied warranty, which could potentially cost the station millions. Other than that, if you consumed food at the Valley Oak Food and Fuel between April 23rd and May 5th and have experienced or are currently suffering from any of the above symptoms, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, the outbreak has claimed its first victim, as ABC7 reports that one of the five confirmed patients battling botulism passed away. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help his family.