Contaminated potato salad to blame for deadly botulism at Ohio church potluck dinner

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LANCASTER, Ohio (CNN)– Local and state health officials say potato salad made with home-canned potatoes is to blame for the more than 20 cases of botulism in Lancaster, Ohio, last week. All of those who are sick ate at a potluck dinner at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church on April 19.

Health officials tested leftover food samples obtained from the trash and interviewed ill patients to determine what common food all of them ate.

As of Tuesday, there were 21 confirmed cases of botulism and 10 more suspected cases, according to Ohio Department of Health spokesperson Shannon Libby. That includes the death of a 54-year-old woman. The ill patients were treated at area hospitals with an antitoxin from the Strategic National Stockpile provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Foodborne outbreaks of botulism infecting two or more people happen almost every year, according to the CDC, and they are usually caused by home-canned foods.

Local health officials stressed the importance of using a pressure canner or cooker when canning foods at home because the pressure kills the germ that causes botulism.

Botulism is not contagious and only affects those who consume the contaminated food. Its symptoms typically begin anywhere from 18 to 36 hours of consuming tainted food. It can cause paralysis, double vision, difficulty swallowing and respiratory failure.

According to the CDC, there are an average of 145 cases of botulism a year and 15% of them are foodborne.

Dr. Mark Aebi, Health Commissioner and Medical Director at the Fairfield County Department of Health said in a statement: “This is a difficult time for our community, and our thoughts and prayers are with the affected individuals and their families.”