Botulism Outbreak And Suing For A Foodborne Illness

In northern California, a quick gas station snack turned deadly for one man, and caused serious illness to nine others. The ten victims have botulism, a rare but serious disease caused by a powerful toxin.

What Is Botulism?

Botulism is caused by a toxin called clostridium botulinum, or the botulinum toxin. It generally spreads via food, particularly through canned foods and foods with low acidity. Since canned environments lack oxygen, the toxin thrives. This is why canned foods are particularly susceptible. Botulism also spreads through open wounds, or contact with dirt or other contaminants.

In the northern California case, the culprit is nacho cheese sauce. This is is a relatively rare way for botulism to occur.

Foodborne botulism may cause:

  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • Facial weakness on both sides of the face
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Breathing issues
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Paralysis

To diagnose botulism, the victim receives a brain scan or examination of spinal fluid. It is treated with antitoxins, which block the dangerous effects. Recovery can take months, and some victims may need a ventilator to help with their breathing. While only around 5% of botulism cases are fatal, the disease is often incredibly serious.

Foodborne Botulism Is Preventable:

  • Don’t eat preserved food if the container is bulging, or if the food smells spoiled
  • Additionally, remember that like many foodborne issues, botulism toxins cannot always be seen, smelled, or tasted!
  • If canning foods at home, make sure you reach adequate heat and acidic levels. Learn about proper canning procedures.
  • Refrigerate any oils infused with garlic or herbs
  • If cooked potatoes are wrapped in aluminum foil, keep them hot or refrigerate immediately. The foil wrapping can create a lack of oxygen, increasing the chances of botulism.
  • Boil foods for ten minutes to destroy botulism toxin.
  • Never give honey or corn syrup to infants, because they may contain the spores that cause the toxin

Legal Liability

In cases of severe foodborne illness, including botulism, E. coli, and salmonella, the sick person may be able to sue. In order to file a lawsuit over foodborne illness, the victim must prove that:

  • The food was contaminated
  • The food caused the illness

If the victim is the only person who got sick, this may be harder to prove. However, like in the northern California incident, if an outbreak occurs, it will be easier to trace and prove. In these cases, a class action lawsuit may occur. A variety of parties can be considered liable for a foodborne illness, including manufacturers or slaughterhouses and stores and restaurants. It may be a defective product case, or also an issue of negligence.

It’s scary to imagine a quick snack or tasty meal turning into a dangerous illness like botulism. Do what you can to make sure your foods are safe for consumption, and also know that you have legal options if foodborne illness occurs.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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