The risk of botulism has been virtually eliminated from the commercial canning industry, which uses sterilization techniques to kill the C. botulinum spores. For the home canner it is essential to follow recommended guidelines to prevent the growth of C. botulinum. These guidelines are:
- All non-acidic foods, such as green beans and corn, must be canned using a pressure cooker. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, contain natural acids that kill the botulism bacteria.
- To can non-acidic foods, cook them at 10 pounds of pressure at a temperature of 248°F (120°C) for 80 minutes.
Obviously, canning non-acidic foods requires special equipment. If you are not sure about the origin or safety of any home-canned food do not eat it. Dispose of the can safely and be sure to wash hands and touched surfaces thoroughly with bleach or ammonia.
The toxin can also be inactivated if the canned vegetable is cooked at 176°F (80°C) for five minutes or boiled for one minute before eating.
It is also wise to be wary of uncooked fish and meats. Sushi, a popular Japanese dish of raw fish, and venison have been known to spread botulism. All meats should be cooked thoroughly to kill the botulism endospores.
Because of its potent effects upon the human nervous system, botulinum toxin has been investigated for use in the treatment of various neurological diseases. The purified toxin used as a drug, called Botox, is used to treat conditions in which the nervous system cannot adequately control muscles, resulting in debilitating spasms. By its nature, the toxin induces muscular paralysis and is therefore useful in alleviating spasms in disorders such as cerebral palsy, spasmotic dysphonia (vocal spasms), facial spasms, and strabismis (squinting spasms of the eyelids). More controversially, Botox is also used by plastic surgeons in the temporary elimination of facial wrinkles. Administered as an injection, the toxin creates a temporary loss of muscle tone in areas of wrinkling. The result is wrinkle removal. Having reportedly few risks and complications, cosmetic Botox treatment is temporary. Injections initially last only three to four months, eventually requiring one to two injections per year for sustained effects on wrinkles. Botox is most used to eliminate the vertical wrinkles of the forehead in between the eyebrows (called glabellar frownlines) and so-called "crow's feet," wrinkles at the corners of eyes. The value of the cosmetic use of such a potent biological toxin should be weighed carefully against any potentially harmful effects of treatment.
See also Poisons and toxins.
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