The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a consumer advisory statement following the discovery of three cases of botulism in the state of Georgia.
In it, the FDA reminds consumers of the importance of keeping carrot juice - including pasteurized carrot juice - refrigerated.
This follows the discovery of a possible connection between the three cases of botulism and pasteurized carrot juice. Experts are questioning whether the outbreak was caused due to the product not being properly refrigerated.
The FDA is also looking into whether the industry currently provides clear labeling on refrigeration of juice products during storage.
FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and health authorities in Georgia have been closely monitoring and continue to investigate these three cases of foodborne botulism. On September 15, 2006, Georgia health authorities issued a press statement, which in part stated that "at this time we believe that these three cases are an isolated incident.
"During the investigation, other community members have been identified as having purchased and consumed the same product from the same vendor within the past three weeks. These persons have not become ill or developed any symptoms.
"The fact that additional cases have not been identified suggests that the toxin was not present before the sale of the product."
Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by botulinum toxin, a nerve poison that under certain conditions is produced by Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium commonly found in soil. Botulism can be fatal and is considered a medical emergency.
Foodborne botulism is not common in the United States; an average of 24 cases are reported each year. Botulinum poisoning can result in the following symptoms: double-vision, droopy eyelids and altered voice or trouble with speaking or swallowing, and paralysis on both sides of the body that progresses from the neck down, possibly followed by difficulty in breathing.
Adequate refrigeration is one of the keys to food safety. Cold temperatures keep most harmful pathogens from growing and multiplying. Refrigerator temperatures should be no higher than 40°F and freezers no higher then 0°F.
The FDA said that consumers should check the temperatures occasionally with an appliance thermometer. Consumers should also look for the words "Keep Refrigerated" or "Refrigerate After Opening" on juice labels to know whether the product should be refrigerated.
"Botulism is such a potentially serious illness, we want to remind consumers that it is critical to refrigerate carrot juice for safety. Consumers should not keep carrot juice unrefrigerated," said Dr. Robert Brackett, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN).
"Inadequate refrigeration of carrot juice allows botulinum spores to multiply to the level at which they can cause illness."