Ten Hospitalized and One Death Linked to Botulism Outbreak due to Contaminated Cheese Sauce

The Botulism Outbreak

According to California state and local officials 10 people were hospitalized after they had contracted botulism from eating nacho cheese sauce served at the Valley Oak Food and fuel gas station in Walnut Grove, California.

According to CNN the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services wrote in a statement that the cause of the illness “appears to be prepared food, particularly nacho cheese sauce” from a gas station in Walnut Grove.

On May 8, health officers from the state Department of Health impounded four bags of Gehl’s cheese sauce and reopened the store to sell prepackaged food items only. Gehl Foods is a Germantown, Wisconsin-based maker of ready-to-serve real dairy products. The company uses an advanced aseptic process to eliminate microorganisms.  Its products – cheese sauces, puddings, yogurt, and dairy-based beverages – are sold in restaurants and retail stores.

The Sacramento County Public Health Department, who has been part of the on-going investigation, said that the preliminary testing of the cheese found to be positive for botulism.  However, the California state officials have not yet determined the cause for the botulism outbreak, whether it originated from the manufacturing of the cheese or whether the outbreak originated within the gas station itself as an in-house contamination.


ABC 7 News reported on Friday(5/19/17) that Martin Galindo contracted botulism from nacho cheese bought at the gas station.  It is unclear whether Galindo’s case of botulism was related to the outbreak that has hospitalized 10 people. The state Department of Health will not release information on whether any counties other than Sacramento County have reported cases of botulism. The San Francisco County Coroner’s office stated that Galindo died on Thursday night (5/18/17).

CNN reports that one woman, Lavinia Kelly, a mother of 3, was reportedly hospitalized after putting the nacho cheese sauce on some Doritos chips on April 21. Kelly has spent more than three weeks in the intensive care unit according to the report.  Her family said that while she remains conscious, her motor skills are so far gone that she cannot even open her eyes. But the family said they still have hope. “Thank God that we know she can recover,” they said.

According to her attorney, Bruce Clark of the Seattle-based Marler Clark law firm, Kelly felt ill the same day she consumed the food, and went to Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. She was discharged by doctors, but was back in the emergency room the next day as her symptoms became worse. By the next morning, she needed assistance from a ventilator to maintain breathing.

“The cruel thing about the toxin is it induces a slow, creeping paralysis starting at the head and moving down and includes the respiratory muscles,” Clark said. “They slowly lose the ability to breathe. If you can get on mechanical ventilation, your chances of survival are good. All will have some residual neurological damage.”

The law firm of Marler Clark has been retained by 6 individuals and has filed a lawsuit


Clostridium botulinum grows on food that has not been properly canned or preserved and can be found in canned cheese sauce, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Clostridium Botulinum grows under anaerobic conditions on food and produces toxins that, when ingested, causes paralysis.

Botulism neurotoxins prevent neurotransmitters from functioning properly, inhibiting motor control. As botulism progresses, the patient experiences paralysis from top to bottom, starting with the eyes and face and moving to the throat, chest, and extremities. When paralysis reaches the chest, death from inability to breathe results, unless the patient is ventilated. Symptoms of botulism generally appear 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food.  With treatment, illness lasts from 1 to 10 days.  Full recovery from botulism poisoning can take weeks to months.  Some people never fully recover.

Botulism poisoning is extremely rare, but so dangerous that each case is considered a public health emergency. Studies have shown that there is a 35 to 65 percent chance of death for patients who are not treated immediately and effectively with botulism antitoxin. If caught early, before the onset of paralysis, an antitoxin can be used to treat botulism. In the past 50 years, the percentage of patients with botulism who have died has dropped from 50 percent to 5 percent, according to the CDC.  There are about 145 cases of human botulism a year.  While botulism can be fatal, the CDC’s website states that only 3 to 5% of patients die.

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