Botulinum poisoning cases concern health experts

March 30, 2021 - 08:00
One person died of suspected botulinum poisoning after eating vegetarian pâté in the southern province of Bình Dương last week.


Vacuum packing at home is not safe enough for food preservation, say health experts. Photo

HÀ NỘI – One person died of suspected botulinum poisoning after eating vegetarian pâté in the southern province of Bình Dương last week.

Six people were hospitalised in the incident.

Bình Dương Province’s health department has reported to the Ministry of Health on the incident and suspected consumption of vegetarian pate containing the toxin Clostridium botulinum.

According to the Bình Dương Food Safety and Hygiene Department, on March 20, two sisters named C.N.H. and C.N.M cooked a lunch of bún riêu (crab noodle soup) for 25-30 Buddhist followers in Chiêu Liêu Shrine in Chánh Nghĩa Residential Area of Thủ Dầu Một City.

They used vegetarian pâté for the noodle soup.

After the meal, H and M and M’s 16-year-old daughter suffered dizziness, blurred vision, stiff tongue and difficulty swallowing. Then, they were sent to the 115 People's Hospital, Chợ Rẫy Hospital and Children's Hospital 2 in HCM City.

M eventually died in the hospital.

After the incident, the Bình Dương Food Safety and Hygiene Department asked the Chiểu Liên Shrine to tell all people who ate the meal if they had abnormal health signs to go to a medical facility for examination.

On March 26, three more people who ate lunch at Chiểu Liên Shrine were hospitalised in 115 People's Hospital.

Three of the six have shown signs of recovery after receiving serum for the toxin, while two others are receiving plasma replacement at the hospital to reduce the toxin.

So far, the HCM City Department of Health has confirmed that there was enough evidence to say three of the six patients had been poisoned by food containing toxins of the clostridium botulinum bacteria.

Warnings of botulinum poison

Deputy Director of the Department of Food Safety Trần Việt Nga warned that food containing dangerous toxins such as vegetarian pate could be present in any kitchen or refrigerator due to improper preservation and use of food.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria are born in an anaerobic environment, so any canned product, smoked food, anaerobic fermented food such as marinated meat and fish, and food preserved in an anaerobic environment can produce the bacteria.

Normally, botulinum poisoning cases are very rare, but recently many cases have occurred with most related to home-cooked meals and the trend of vacuum-packing food preservation.

Improper canning of food created a huge risk of botulinum toxin poisoning, according to Nga.

The consequences of botulinum poisoning were often severe, with a high risk of death or long-term health effects, she said.

"The World Health Organisation had also warned around the world about the trend of using 'vacuum bags' at home by households that do not ensure food safety and there is a risk of poisoning, especially poisoning from dangerous anaerobic bacteria such as in the vegetarian pate case," said Nga.

Therefore, experts of the Food Safety Department said households and manual production establishments should not pack and seal food under vacuum-sealed form for long-term storage.

They also recommended carefully checking the instructions and expiry dates of canned food and not eating expired food, food from bulging or crushed cans or food where the taste and colour have changed.

If someone suffers symptoms like vomiting, abdominal pain, symptoms of paralysis, drooping eyelashes, blurred vision, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness or dry mouth they should immediately go to medical facilities for prompt treatment, Nga said. VNS