Several months ago, my friend Em (name has been changed to protect the not so innocent) and I recently got to talking about stocking up on food and she told me she was pretty confident she had enough food stored up. Em has one of those large walk-in pantries that can be filled from floor to ceiling, something alien to us apartment preppers. She is quite preparedness-minded herself; she’d been carrying around a full suitcase of backup clothes for the kids in the trunk of her car long before I even thought about emergency prepping. When she told me she wasn’t worried about food storage as she had more than enough, I could tell she did not want to get into too much detail so we left it at that.
Fast forward to the present, we got together and I asked Em how her day went. She said she had a rough day, as she and her husband had to clean up every inch of her entire pantry. I was intrigued, “What happened?” She said, “A couple of the cans high in the pantry shelf exploded and nasty, disgusting stuff flew all over the place. It smelled pretty rotten in there.”
She and her DH had to don a pair of gloves, some masks and some old clothes (practically a haz mat suit). They emptied the entire pantry, and swabbed it down with bleach solution. Turns out they had cans of food from 2002 that they had forgotten about. The cans got so old that they exploded, which means botulism toxins could have gotten all over the place. Well Botox may be something some people may want in their face, but botulism bacteria (or Clostridium botulinum) is quite dangerous around food.
Facts about botulism bacteria
- Thrives in low salt, low acid, high humidity environment, when food is stored without refrigeration
- Can grow in canned foods that are damaged, warped or very old
- Can enter the body through open wounds
- Symptoms generally appear between 18-36 hours of eating a contaminated food, or possibly as early as six hours and up to 10 days of eating a contaminated food.
- Symptoms include difficulty breathing, double vision, difficulty swallowing, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, weakness leading to paralysis
- Infants can catch it from eating honey or corn syrup as their digestive tracts are not fully developed to handle these foods.
- Treatment is the administration of a botulism anti toxin, as soon as possible to avoid complications
- If you suspect botulism, immediately call 911 or go to the emergency room
- Throw away bulging, dented and old canned foods
- If you can foods at home, do not take shortcuts. Making even small mistakes can lead to a hospital visit for botulism or worse.
- If the canned or preserved food smells “off,” get rid of it
- Never give babies under one year old honey or corn syrup, not even to taste
Back to my friend Em’s story. They threw out everything in that pantry. As they went through the cans, they wondered why they had stored stuff that no one in their family eats. Some cans were already getting puffy, but even the newer cans got thrown out. If any of the toxic liquid got even close, they went ahead and threw them out in double bagged construction bags. It wasn’t worth the risk of botulism.
Em is actually glad she realized their mistakes before an actual emergency. Had an emergency happened, they would have had nothing to eat. They realized their food storage was so out of date they needed to restock as soon as possible. They immediately went ahead and carefully shopped for foods they would normally eat, as well as basic ingredients such as rice, beans, pasta, sugar, oatmeal and other bulk foods that they can self seal in food grade buckets for long term food storage. This time Em is making sure they rotate their stocks. I told her I could not pass up the retelling of this story I’d have to blog about it. She figured if it helps someone else, then she doesn’t mind at all.