The Grapevine

What Causes Botulism? Public Concern After California Woman Hospitalized After Eating Nachos

Despite being an unnatural shade of orange, we’ve all drizzled nacho cheese sauce over some chips at the movies, baseball game or gas station during a road trip, without any life-threatening consequences. But one Los Angeles-area woman has been in the hospital for more than three weeks after reportedly getting botulism from gas station nachos.

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Lavinia Kelly, 33, hasn’t spoken or breathed without the help of machines since being hospitalized with the condition, reports The Sacramento Bee. The paper writes that the mother of three made a stop at the Valley Oak Food & Fuel after her shift as an inventory manager. She purchased a bag of Doritos and added nacho cheese sauce on top, according to her partner.

nachos-1203214_1920 Nachos put a California woman in the hospital for more than three weeks. Pixabay

In just a few hours, Kelly felt tired, and by the next morning she had double vision, causing her to go to a nearby medical center. She was sent home, but after experiencing breathing problems and vomiting, she went to the emergency room.

Kelly has since been at the hospital’s intensive care unit and hasn’t been able to talk or open her eyes, The Sacramento Bee explains.

“We’re just trying to figure out what happened,” her partner Ricky Torres told the paper. “Now I spend most of time at the hospital, I’m just trying to get answers. … She’s been doing good, and we just don’t understand why this happened over a bag of chips and nacho cheese. Really? How does that happen?”

Botulism essentially produces a toxin that affects your nerves and is caused by several strains of bacteria. Foodborne botulism, as in this case, typically happens by eating items contaminated with the botulinum toxin. Usually homemade items that haven’t been properly canned, preserved or fermented are the culprits, but store-bought food can also be contaminated, though this is very uncommon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a few unlikely sources are linked to botulism every so often. Usually it’s due to improper handling during manufacturing, at the stores or by consumers. Garlic-infused oil, canned cheese sauce, chili peppers, carrot juice and baked potatoes in foil are a few atypical foods that have caused the poisoning.

In this case, the cheese sauce used for Kelly’s nachos appears to be the culprit. The Sacramento County Public Health office is currently investigating the  situation as they believe cheese sauce purchased at the Valley Oak store is the cause for five other cases of botulism.

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Extremely rare, there were 199 confirmed botulism cases in 2015, 39 of which were related to food. Of that, 27 cases were linked to home-canned potatoes, four to eating fermented seal, and two were tracked to roasted beets that sat in foil for several days at room temperature. The remaining food-borne causes were unkonwn. Symptoms include double and blurred vision, slurred speech, trouble swallowing and weak muscles. While serious, botulism is treatable, and death rates have fallen to about 3-5 percent of those afflicted, compared to about half, over the last 50 years.

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