FDA Acting on 2006 Carrot Juice Botulism Outbreak

Two years ago, three people from Georgia, one from Florida, and two from Canada all fell seriously ill with <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/food_poisoning">botulism after consuming Bolthouse Farms carrot juice that was likely not properly refrigerated, Reuters reports.  One patient died within three months and two patients remain on ventilators today.  According to Reuters,  the other three received ventilator treatment for a period of 54, 90, and 129 days, respectively.  Of the five survivors, two are at home, two are in rehabilitation centers, and one remains hospitalized.

Dr. Anandi N. Sheth from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and colleagues, said that the subsequent investigation revealed that Clostridium botulinum likely developed as a result of inadequate refrigeration, said Reuters.  According to investigators writing in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, “This investigation demonstrates that carrot juice and other processed foods with no natural barriers to C. botulinum germination require additional chemical or thermal barriers.”

While three of the victims drank from the same bottle, the other illnesses originated from different bottles with different lot numbers.  In all the cases, it seemed as if inadequate refrigeration played an important role in the products’ contamination with the botulinim bacteria.

Now, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is looking into adding acidification to carrot juice processing procedures. According to Reuters, in June 2007, the FDA modified its guidance for refrigerated low-acid juices to recommend adding a validated juice-treatment method, such as acidification or appropriate thermal treatment, to decrease the risk of C. botulinum contamination, should any breaches in refrigeration occur,

Such acidification methods have been adopted in previous food borne botulism outbreaks.  For example, following a 1985 outbreak, the FDA enhanced its rules to require “garlic-in-oil products contain an acidifying agent such as phosphoric or citric acid,” said the CDC.

Meanwhile, FoodNavigator-USA.com is reporting that the FDA has  issued a consumer advisory statement, in which it warns consumers about keeping all carrot juice—pasteurized or not—properly refrigerated and noted that the FDA is also investigating current labeling on such juices.

“Botulism is such a potentially serious illness, we want to remind consumers that it is critical to refrigerate carrot juice for safety.  Consumers should not keep carrot juice unrefrigerated.  Inadequate refrigeration of carrot juice allows botulinum spores to multiply to the level at which they can cause illness,” FoodNavigator quoted Dr. Robert Brackett, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), told the website.

Clostridium botulinum—a nerve toxin—can cause botulism, a serious, sometimes fatal paralytic illness characterized by blurred vision, drooping eyelids, muscle weakness, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing.  Botulism can cause paralysis and leads to death in about eight percent of cases.  If not treated properly, botulism can paralyze breathing muscles, and victims can spend months on hospital ventilators until the botulism toxin is out of their system.

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