Two studies in different European countries have both emphasized the need to improve consumer awareness and education to prevent botulism.

The first study looked at epidemiological data on foodborne botulism in Western Romania over the past decade. Botulism poisoning is a rare illness caused by toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria.

Medical records from one hospital were analyzed from 2010 to 2020 for all food botulism cases and a test was performed with type A, B and E anti-botulinum sera to establish the kind of toxin involved.

Domestic dangers
Overall, 18 cases of foodborne botulism were admitted to hospital during this period and were confirmed by laboratory analysis, according to the study published in the MDPI journal Healthcare.

Patients ranged in age from 19 to 72. Most were men and lived in rural areas. The majority had gastrointestinal symptoms within 12 to 24 hours after eating contaminated food and all recovered.

Foods were not examined but the main sources were thought to be pork, ham and home-canned meat. Home-preserved food is put in bottles or cans, and botulism occurs due to inadequate preparation and improper storage. In Romania, domestic pigs are slaughtered in the winter, and meat is preserved, canned, and kept at room temperature for a few months before eating.

Romania has faced a number of foodborne botulism outbreaks. In 2003, 27 cases including two deaths; in 2004, 18 cases over four months; in 2005, 21 cases in three outbreaks; in 2006, 23 cases and one death in two outbreaks; in 2007, 110 cases with three deaths in five outbreaks nationwide; and in 2008, 11 cases in one outbreak.

The study showed a decreased prevalence each year with the most botulism cases in 2015.

“Botulism may be averted in high-occurrence districts by recognizing cooking and community standards and discouraging local traditions to prevent botulism. Stronger attempts should be made to educate the public on botulism mindfulness and its associated consequences, and deterrence-centered food safety regulators can aid in preventing epidemics,” said researchers.

Italian data
Italy has one of the highest incidence rates of foodborne botulism in Europe, according to a different study published in the journal Food Control.

Researchers investigated botulinum neurotoxins (BoNT)-producing clostridia occurrences in foods from Northern Italy between 2013 and 2020. In total, 2,187 samples were provided by food businesses from their own controls.

Sixteen food samples were positive for the presence of BoNT-producing clostridia, including dairy products, fruit, vegetables, sauces, bakery products, meat products, and spices and flavorings.

Analysis of biological samples in suspected foodborne botulism cases was carried out with local hospitals. Among 52 patients with suspected symptoms of botulism, 18 were confirmed to be positive.

Food leftovers related to the suspected cases were also analyzed and were positive in five cases with most being homemade products.

“Our study highlights that foodborne botulism continues to be a public health concern in both industrial processing and homemade products, stressing the importance of consumer education to avoid hazardous botulism outbreaks,” said researchers.

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