Canada

Botulism from baked potato sparks Health Canada warning

Health Canada has issued a health advisory about potatoes after an Ontario man contracted botulism from a baked potato.

Mark Barley was almost totally paralyzed and temporarily lost his vision after taking several bites out of a potato at a Meaford, Ont., restaurant. He's believed to be the first person in Canada to contract the disease from a baked potato.

The 35-year-old man is on life support. His wife says he's able to blink and to squeeze her hand.

  • Wash potatoes thoroughly (not with soap) before cooking
  • foil-wrapped potatoes must be unwrapped and refrigerated immediately, or within one to two hours at four degrees Celsisus
  • any potatoes must be refrigerated regardless of how they were cooked
  • Health Canada says storing potatoes in aluminum foil at room temperature may provide ideal conditions for the spores that cause botulism to grow.

    The Barleys were eating at the Harbour Moose restaurant on July 26. Judy Barley says she noticed a bad smell when the waiter brought her husband's meal. After a few mouthfuls, Mark complained about his food and got the meal for free.

    The next morning, he complained of blurred vision and his speech was slurred.

    The local health unit shut down the restaurant for several hours on July 28. It was re-opened after authorities examined the food conditions. Since then, the health unit has also conducted spot searches.

    Vegetables and fruit, particularly those grown in soil, can contain botulism spores. Home-canned and low-acid foods (corn, green beans, mushrooms) are also most likely to contain the bacteria. It takes 12 to 36 hours for botulism to develop.

    Symptoms of foodborne botulism include:

    • ptosis (drooping of the eyelid)
    • dizziness
    • blurred or double vision
    • vomiting and diarrhea
    • dry mouth and sore throat
    • difficulty in swallowing, breathing and speaking
    • progressive paralysis

    Irina Frenkel, a food safety expert at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, says potatoes should be unwrapped after baking in foil and exposed to air. They should be kept in the fridge until they are ready to eat so the spores won't grow.

    There are about 10 cases of botulism in Canada every year.