Botulism and Fermenting: Should I Worry?

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Cases of botulism have increased in 2017 and subsequently so has the media coverage and public concern. Botulism is a rare illness caused by a toxin created by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Botulism attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis and death. Botulism is not contagious and for adults it can only be contracted through food and soil, however this article is going to be focusing on food-born toxins, which accounts for approximately 80% of the cases. 

Clostridium botulinum is a very common form of bacteria, but when left in an anaerobic environment (airless) the toxins thrive and botulism becomes a risk. Improperly preserved and canned foods are especially subject to botulism, however it is still extremely uncommon and avoidable through proper preparation, boiling and storing. The symptoms of food-born botulism include weakened facial muscles, drooping eyes, drooling, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. It is critical to seek medical attention immediately if you experience these symptoms. 

Although lacto-fermentation requires an anaerobic environment, botulism is not a risk. In a lacto-ferment, beneficial bacteria grow and create lactic acid, which is not a friendly environment for Clostridium botulinum and neither is a salty (brine) environment. You should still follow good practises while fermenting vegetables, like using fresh produce, chlorine-free water, iodine-free salt and ensuring your vegetables are properly submerged.

Learn more about how to prepare for your ferment here

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