'Wallpaper' sparks botulism food safety fears

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Uk

'Wallpaper' sparks botulism food safety fears
An article published in lifestyle magazine Wallpaper about “cutting edge” food preparation techniques so worried food safety expert, Dr Jo Head that she contacted FoodManufacture.co.uk to share her fears about foodborne botulism.

The article, entitled Modern Cuisine​, also offers an important learning point for the UK food manufacturing sector, said Head. The article recommended that consumers try three food preparation techniques which, in less than skilled hands, could prove dangerous, she said.

The three techniques were sous vide preparation, curing and adding oil. French for 'under vacuum', sous vide involves cooking​ food sealed in airtight bag a water bath for up to 72 hours at about 60°C.

Unsuspecting consumer

Sous vide in the hands of an unsuspecting consumer could lead to botulism​,” said Head. The low temperatures associated with this method of food preparation required products to be handled extremely carefully, she added.

Similarly, curing fish or meat, also recommended by the magazine, carried considerable risk of botulism poisoning. “Buying fish that could be 10 days old and curing them could be a hazardous thing to do​,” warned Head.

The last technique recommended adding oil to a range of vegetables and fruit. But the article did not specify what type of oil.

It was alarming to see these techniques promoted to unsuspecting consumers​,” said Head. Instead of “singling out seven cutting-edge techniques to dazzle dinner guests​,” as the article promised, the techniques it promoted could kill them, she warned.

In addition to potentially endangering consumers, the article also had important lessons for the UK food sector, she continued. Food preparation, whether in the kitchen or the processing plant, should be backed by a sound understanding of the science involved.

A good example was the UK’s last fatal outbreak of botulism that occurred in 1989. Also the country’s largest outbreak, 27 people became ill and one person died as a result of it.

Botulinum toxin

The source of the outbreak was traced to hazelnut yogurt made with cans of hazelnut purée. The purée was the source of botulinum toxin. The pH was more than 4.5 and the heat process employed was not enough to destroy the spores of C. botulinum.

According to Eurosurveillance, the EU peer-reviewed science publication: “In the implicated batch of purée, sugar had been replaced by aspartame, with a resultant change in water activity which is a measure of the amount of water available in foods for microbial growth.

“These factors, together with storage of the purée at room temperature, permitted growth of the organism and production of toxin type B to levels of 600-1800 MLD/ml​.”

Head added: “Changes to the formulation of the yogurt removed the protection​ (against botulinum) offered by both acidity and sugar. It is an example of ​(companies) making changes to food formulations without understanding the food safety implications​.”

22 years later, some in the food manufacturing industry still have lessons to learn, she said.

Eurosurveillance defines​Clostridium botulinum as a spore forming bacterium that grows in the absence of oxygen and is responsible for three main epidemiological categories of disease: Foodborne, infant, and wound botulism.

No one from Wallpaper​ was available to answer FoodManufacture.co.uk’s questions about the article.

Related topics: Food Safety, Fresh produce, Seafood

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1 comment

Botulisum Risk

Posted by Malcolm Kane,

Dr Jo Head, who I know well, is quite correct to draw attention to this dangerous 'Wallpaper' article. The article should require a 'recall' notification in an analogous manner to food product that has failed a critical food safety control. Food Manufacture should inform the FSA with copies of the offending article.

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