Botulism and Ptomaine

Only in recent years have scientists been able to study the problem of food poisoning intelligently, study the problem of food poisoning intelligently. They recognize now, however, two types. The more common—and more deadly—is botulinus poisoning, once erroneously known as ptomaine poisoning. Here the bacteria usually enters the food while it still is in the soil. In the second type the contaminant usually reaches it through animal or human carriers, generally because of inadequate sanitation.

The expression “ptomaine poison” is now almost obsolete, and ptomaine is perhaps the rarest of food poisons. It comes from the Greek word “ptoma,” meaning corpse. Medical men agree the term “ptomaine poisoning” should never be used.

One historic case of botulinus poisoning occurred after a score of men and women had gathered around the banquet table of a Western host. They ate and drank and made merry—and a week later the city was saddened as several went to their graves, victims of a deadly poison.

Within a few weeks an epidemic of botulism swept over the United States. In every case the fatal illnesses were traced to canned olives.

Field agents for the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Drug Administration bought samples of every known brand. They soon narrowed the culprits down to two packs, from Western plants. So serious had the epidemic become meantime that the olive industry languished. But the deaths may have proved a blessing in disguise, for the cause was found: a toxin-producing anaembe which entered the olives from the soil.

Preventive steps were quickly taken. The chemist prescribed a simple remedy: sterilization of the vats, in which the olives soak before being canned, with a solution of chlorine strong enough to kill the bacillus, and to-day you may feel free to eat olives without fear of ill results. To make absolutely sure the chlorine does the job, however, chemists periodically slice open olives from the pack and test them for botulism.

New Health.