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Health - Public Health News

Posted on: May 3, 2022

Suspected botulism death in Washington State; Learn more about safe canning

A man is suspected of dying from botulisum poisoning after eating food canned at home. This tragic incident is a reminder to always follow safety precautions when processing home-canned foods.

It can be hard to tell if home-canned food is contaminated with botulism because it may not have a bad taste, smell, or appearance. Botulism is caused by a toxin that is a by-product of a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. Botulinum spores are found in soil, seawater and many other places in the environment. 

Botulinum bacteria:

  • Can survive high cooking temperatures.

  • Grows in low oxygen environments like canned or vacuum packaged foods.

  • Tends to grow slowly over weeks or months if the food is not processed safely.

  • May not cause food to look, taste or smell spoiled.

How to prevent botulism:

  • Learn how to safely process food. Washington State University Cooperative Extension provides recipes and resources for canning and pickling.  See WSU Extension | Washington State University  for more information.

  • Make sure your canning equipment is functioning properly.  Be sure canner seals are in good condition.  Make sure your pressure gauge is accurate. Use new lids with intact seals.

  • Inspect each jar of canned food for signs of seal failure immediately after processing and before consuming the food.  Discard items if the seals appear to be failing – look for:

  • Bulging lids

  • Leaking seals

  • Discolored or spoiled contents

If in doubt, throw it out - It is always better to be safe than sick!

Contact the Whatcom County Health Department with food safety questions at 360-778-6000 or e-mail

Learn more at

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