CORVALLIS - Foodborne botulism was first identified in Europe during the 1800s as a problem in sausage. In fact, the name comes from the Latin word for sausage, botulus.
Although most outbreaks of foodborne botulism have been traced to improperly home-canned foods, non-preserved foods have also been implicated in botulism outbreaks. These have included smoked fish, sausage, chopped garlic in oil, foil-wrapped baked potatoes, sauteed onions, turkey loaves, meat stews and pot pies left at room temperature or in a warming oven overnight.
As one medical publication describes it, foods that have been "contaminated with soil bacteria and then incubated in an aerobic environment: spoiled, oiled, or foiled."
In many of these cases, Raab explained, the original baking was not hot enough to destroy the botulinum spores, which were able to grow in the oxygen-free environment. Subsequent storage at warm temperatures led to germination and growth of the spores and the development of nerve-attacking toxin.
A 63-year-old Portland man was diagnosed with botulism poisoning last February, the same month a southern Oregon woman and her mother were stricken. In his case, the likely source of toxin was believed to be a frozen burrito that the patient had heated in a microwave and then held in a warming oven for 24 hours.
Although he discarded the burrito after the first bite, one bite proved to be enough.