Science, Practice, and Human Errors in Controlling Clostridium botulinum in Heat-Preserved Food in Hermetic Containers

Pflug, I.J.

Journal of Food Protection 73(5): 993-1002


ISSN/ISBN: 0362-028X
DOI: 10.4315/0362-028x-73.5.993
Accession: 068500565

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The incidence of botulism in canned food in the last century is reviewed along with the background science; a few conclusions are reached based on analysis of published data. There are two primary aspects to botulism control: the design of an adequate process and the delivery of the adequate process to containers of food. The probability that the designed process will not be adequate to control Clostridium botulinum is very small, probably less than 1.0 x 10(-6), based on containers of food, whereas the failure of the operator of the processing equipment to deliver the specified process to containers of food may be of the order of 1 in 40, to 1 in 100, based on processing units (retort loads). In the commercial food canning industry, failure to deliver the process will probably be of the order of 1.0 x 10(-4) to 1.0 x 10(-6) when U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations are followed. Botulism incidents have occurred in food canning plants that have not followed the FDA regulations. It is possible but very rare to have botulism result from postprocessing contamination. It may thus be concluded that botulism incidents in canned food are primarily the result of human failure in the delivery of the designed or specified process to containers of food that, in turn, result in the survival, outgrowth, and toxin production of C. botulinum spores. Therefore, efforts in C. botulinum control should be concentrated on reducing human errors in the delivery of the specified process to containers of food.