Toxic Tort Attorney Margie Searcy Alford On Botulism Litigation

In this analysis, toxic tort and product liability attorney Margie Searcy Alford explains botulism poisoning, discusses relevant litigation, and gives practice tips for handling these cases. Issues discussed include identifying defendants and anticipating insurance coverage disputes.

She writes:

"Botulism is a rare but serious neuroparalytic illness caused by the botulinum toxin, a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Clostridium botulinum is the name of a group of spore-forming bacteria commonly found in soil over the world. The neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum is the most toxic substance known to man. There are seven immunologically distinct toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum, known as Types A through G. Botulism in humans is caused primarily by Types A, B, and E. Type A is the most deadly. Type E is associated exclusively with consuming animal foods from salt or fresh waters, especially raw or fermented marine fish and mammals. Types C and D cause botulism in animals. Botulism is usually diagnosed through the 'mouse inoculation test,' requiring injection of blood, serum, or stool into mice. . . .

"Infant botulism is the most common form of human botulism in the United States. It is caused when ingested spores of the botulinum bacteria grow in the child's intestines and release botulinum neurotoxin. Infant botulism usually occurs in children under age 6 months. Risk factors include consumption of honey and exposure to contaminated soil. Another type of botulism is wound botulism, which is caused by toxin produced from a wound infected with Clostridium botulinum. Wound botulism is sometimes associated with injection drug users.

"This focus of this article is on foodborne botulism, which is caused by eating foods contaminated with botulinum toxin. Growth of bacterium Clostridium botulinum and the production of its toxin require particular conditions, including an anaerobic (oxygen-free), low-salt, low-acid environment. Preparing food under conditions that destroy the toxins (cooking at 85 degrees C for at least 5 minutes), inactivate the spores (heating to 121 degrees C under pressure of 15-20 lb/in2 for at least 20 minutes), and do not allow the spores to grow prevent widespread botulism in the United States. . . .

"Food product manufacturers and distributors, manufacturers and maintenance providers of sterilization systems, grocers, and restaurants  are all possible defendants and third-party defendants in botulism cases." 

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