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Baby food and the potential for botulism poisoning, there and elsewhere

October 20, 2009 | 10:09 am

Any recall of baby food is worrisome, but toss in a reference to botulism -- as does the most recent recall notice -- and the worry can become alarm. But hold off. This action is quite limited in scope, affecting only one batch of one product, Plum Organics' 4.22-ounce apple and carrot portable pouch baby food.

The product has a best-by date of May 21, 2010, and a  UPC code of 890180001221. It was sold at Toys-R-Us and Babies-R-Us stores, and no illnesses have been reported 

Here's the recall notice, dated Monday, from Plum Organics.

It begins: "I wanted to let you know that, today, Plum Organics voluntarily recalled a small portion of our Apple & Carrot Baby Food in Portable Pouches after a routine test determined the formulation was incorrect. Plum Organics immediately investigated the matter and confirmed that a mixing error was to blame which resulted in an improper blend of carrots and apples."

That sounds benign enough, but keep going and you'll find this:

"The recall was undertaken as a precaution due to the risk of potential contamination with Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism, a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition."

Here's more on botulism and the organism that causes it, from the Food and Drug Administration.

Two key points:

"Onset of symptoms in foodborne botulism is usually 18 to 36 hours after ingestion of the food containing the toxin, although cases have varied from 4 hours to 8 days. Early signs of intoxication consist of marked lassitude, weakness and vertigo, usually followed by double vision and progressive difficulty in speaking and swallowing. Difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distention, and constipation may also be common symptoms."

And: "The incidence of the disease is low, but the mortality rate is high if not treated immediately and properly."

Here's some additional information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discussing common sources of botulism poisoning.

Home preparation is often the culprit. The CDC notes: "Foodborne botulism has often been from home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn. However, outbreaks of botulism from more unusual sources such as chopped garlic in oil, chile peppers, tomatoes, carrot juice, improperly handled baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil, and home-canned or fermented fish. Persons who do home canning should follow strict hygienic procedures to reduce contamination of foods. Oils infused with garlic or herbs should be refrigerated."

-- Tami Dennis