French Wine Bar Manager Charged After Deadly Botulism Outbreak

Following a serious botulism outbreak that left one woman dead and at least 15 others ill or hospitalized, a French restaurant boss has been charged with involuntary homicide. The outbreak began in early September of this year after the victims visited the Tchin Tchin Wine Bar in central Bordeaux. According to French authorities, the source of the botulism is believed to be improperly preserved sardines, which the manager had canned himself.

Frédérique Porterie, the public prosecutor involved in the case, said in a statement that "various infringements of the hygiene regulations by the establishment's manager" were discovered during the investigation, "especially relating to homemade preserves." A lawyer for several of the victims stated that the outbreak was caused "not by tragic happenstance, but through the fault of a chain of responsibility that failed at every level" (via The New York Times). The manager, who has not been named by authorities, reportedly faces up to five years in prison, as well as a fine for the incident. As of now, he has been released but is prohibited from operating or managing any food establishment.

Many of the victims affected by the tragic outbreak were tourists. Those who were treated hailed from the United States, Canada, Ireland, Spain, and Germany, although the one fatality, a 32-year-old Greek woman, was reportedly based in Paris. Indeed, scores of foreign visitors had descended on the famous wine region at the time to watch the Rugby World Cup matches being held in the city.

Botulism poses a serious health risk in relation to canned foods

Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), botulism is "caused by a toxin that attacks the body's nerves and causes difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and even death." Those affected with foodborne botulism typically show symptoms 18 to 36 hours after consuming contaminated food. It's a rare but deadly risk posed by home-canning, preserving, and fermenting foodstuffs including vegetables, and in this unfortunate case, fish like sardines. Improperly preserved foods can lead to the growth of bacterial spores on the food under certain conditions, including low levels of oxygen, acid, salt, and sugar, certain storage temperatures, or water content.

Although there are plenty of benefits to canning your food, it's essential to follow all proper protocols to ensure food safety and prevent botulism poisoning. Common signs of spoilage in jarred or canned foods include leaks, bulging lids, or mold — all indications that you should dispose of the food. However, the presence of botulism may not show any signs, so it's important to process food correctly from the get-go.

In addition to following the home-canning guidelines presented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you should keep in mind that high levels of acid and heat can help prevent the growth of botulism spores. Per Simply Canning, foods that are low in acid, including meats and vegetables, should always be prepared using a pressure canner, which supplies the high degree of heat needed to kill the spores.