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Botox, a dangerous bacterium to keep away

The recent recall of some jars of Sicilian pesto is to bring attention back to Botoxpathogenic bacterium very dangerous to keep away. That's how.

Botox, a dangerous pathogenic bacterium

Clostridium botulinum - in jargon, botulinum - is an anaerobic bacterium capable of producing extremely heat-resistant spores and neurotropic toxins. 

Botulism is the more severe food poisoning that you know. The neurotoxins produced by the Clostriudium botulinum they are in fact capable of blocking the activity of motor neurons, resulting in flaccid paralysis of various muscle groups. 

Paralysis it has a downward trend, with initial involvement of the eye muscles and consequent visual disturbances (diplopia, or double vision). This is followed by paralysis of the muscles of swallowing and speech, loss of coordination of movements, paralysis of the upper and lower limbs. In patients not undergoing prompt intensive care, paralysis of the diaphragm and respiratory muscles can cause death.

Botox, where it is located

Foods of plant origin can become contaminated by the spores of Clostridium botulinum, which have ubiquitous distribution in the loam, soil and dust (as well as on the seabed and lake beds, as well as in the intestines of many mammals and fish). The soil in particular can be rich in spores that remain on the products if not carefully washed. 

Vegetable preserves homemade (e.g. mushrooms, aubergines, olives, etc.) can be dangerous when they have not been subjected to temperatures suitable to destroy the spores of Clostridium botulinum. The subsequent addition of oil creates the necessary environment (anaerobiosis) for the development of the microorganism, which germinates from the spore and produces neurotoxins.

Some meat products (e.g. salami, cooked hams, mortadella, würstel etc.)  they could in turn be at risk, if not properly treated with sodium or potassium nitrites or nitrates. B.otulinum comes from the Latin botulus, sausage. The first, often fatal, cases of botulinum intoxication were reported following the consumption of pork sausages where clostridium could develop. And precisely to prevent this risk, the use of the aforementioned preservatives was introduced.

Industrial productions they are generally safe, since the self-control and HACCP programs devote primary attention to the risk in question. The rare cases of recall of food products due to botulinum contamination - as recently occurred on some Sicilian pesto with fennel and almonds produced by Frantoi Cutrera - are the (no less dangerous) exceptions that confirm the rule.

Botulism, how to eliminate the risk? 

Almost extreme conditions of temperature and acidity - or the use of preservatives, in meat products - are the only guarantees. 

1) Temperature. The clostridium spores are destroyed by exposure to a temperature of 121 ° C for a duration of 3 minutes. Botulinum toxins are inactivated at a temperature of 80 ° C for at least 10 minutes.

2) Acidity. Only conditions of high acidity (pH below 4,6) can hinder the development of clostridium and the production of botulinum toxins.

3) Preservatives. Nitrites and nitrates prevent the germination of spores and the consequent development of Clostridium botulinum on various meat products (eg salami, cooked hams, mortadella, würstel etc.).

The peasant legend according to which the chili pepper is also suitable for inhibiting the development of Clostridium botulinum it is, on the other hand, devoid of any foundation. Conversely, very serious cases of botulism have also been recorded following the consumption of spicy peppers in oil.

Silvia Bonardi and Dario Dongo

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Graduated in Veterinary Medicine and Specialist in Inspection of Food of Animal Origin and in Veterinary Public Health, she is Professor of Inspection and Control of Food of Animal Origin at the University of Parma. 

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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