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Clostridium botulinum in food


Last updated: 22 December 2020

What is it?

  • Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum) is a type of bacteria found in soil, water, on plants and in the gut of animals
  • It can form spores and toxins that are not destroyed by cooking or boiling
  • Foods at higher risk of contamination include home-canned and bottled foods and vacuum-packed foods that have not been processed properly; fermented, salted and smoked meat and seafood, and honey

What's the risk?

  • C. botulinum can cause a serious illness called botulism (caused by eating the bacteria’s toxin) and infant botulism (generally in children, caused by eating the bacteria’s spores)
  • Anyone can get botulism although it is extremely rare in Australia. Generally only infants under 12 months old get infant botulism
  • If not treated early, botulism can lead to paralysis and deat.

Reduce your risk

  • Take extra care when preparing bottled foods, vacuum-packed food (including sous vide cooking) and fermented, smoked or salted meat and fish products that won’t be thoroughly cooked before eating
  • Use new jars and bottles that have been sterilised
  • Throw away preserved or vacuum-packed food that is badly damaged, bulging or looks spoiled
  • Avoid giving honey to infants under 12 months old
  • Wash your hands with soap and dry them before preparing and eating food
  • Keep your kitchen and equipment clean
  • Refrigerate or freeze cooked food as soon as it has stopped steaming

Symptoms of botulism

  • Symptoms usually start 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food
  • Common symptoms of foodborne botulism are vertigo, nausea, dry mouth, vomiting, double vision and trouble speaking and swallowing. Symptoms may progress to muscle weakness and constipation
  • Common symptoms of infant botulism are constipation, loss of appetite, weak sucking and crying, and muscle weakness including poor head control
  • The illness can last for weeks or months


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