On September 8, 2006, the Georgia Division of Public Health (GDPH) and CDC were notified of three suspected cases of foodborne botulism in Washington County, Georgia. On September 25, the Florida Department of Health and CDC were notified of an additional suspected case in Tampa, Florida.
On September 8, three patients from Washington County, Georgia, went to a local hospital with cranial nerve palsies and progressive descending flaccid paralysis resulting in respiratory failure; the patients had shared meals on September 7. On the evening of September 8, physicians, suspecting foodborne botulism, notified the state health department and collected clinical specimens for testing at CDC. On the same evening, CDC provided clinical consultation and dispatched botulinum antitoxin, which was administered to each of the patients the following morning. After receiving the antitoxin, the patients had no progression of neurologic symptoms, but they remain hospitalized and on ventilators.
On September 9, the Washington County Health Department, Richmond County Health Department, and GDPH launched an investigation. The three patients had consumed several food items during their two meals together on September 7, including juice from a single 1-liter bottle of Bolthouse Farms carrot juice. The bottle had a “Best if Used By” date of September 18, 2006. Clinical specimens and leftover food and juice were collected and sent to CDC for testing. On September 13, botulinum toxin type A was identified in the serum and stool of all three patients. On September 15, leftover carrot juice recovered from the home of one of the patients also tested positive for botulinum toxin type A.
During September 8-15, FDA, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Hospital Association, and public health officials in all 50 states were notified of the outbreak and implicated product as information became available. After these notifications, no additional cases of botulism in Georgia were reported to the state and local health departments or to the CDC. During this time, FDA launched an investigation of the Bolthouse Farms, Inc., manufacturing plant in Bakersfield, California. FDA and CDC tested other bottles of the implicated brand of carrot juice, including bottles from different lots, and all were negative for botulinum toxin. Because botulinum toxin was found only in the bottle of carrot juice consumed by the three patients, a lapse in refrigeration of the carrot-juice bottle during transport or storage was suspected, which would have allowed for growth of Clostridium botulinum and subsequent production of botulinum toxin. Based on the CDC test results, on September 17, FDA issued a consumer advisory on the importance of keeping carrot juice refrigerated. However, information obtained from patient interviews regarding storage and transport of the carrot juice did not confirm mishandling by the patients.
On September 25, officials at the Florida Department of Health, the Hillsborough County Health Department, and CDC were notified that a patient had been hospitalized in Tampa, Florida on September 16, with respiratory failure and descending paralysis. On September 28, botulinum toxin type A was identified in the patient’s serum. Circulating toxin persisted more than 10 days after illness onset in this completely paralyzed patient, indicating ingestion of a massive toxin dose. Accordingly, the patient was treated with antitoxin, which prevents binding of circulating botulinum toxin to nerve endings. The patient remained hospitalized, paralyzed, and on a ventilator. The Hillsborough County Health Department collected an open, 450-milliliter bottle of Bolthouse Farms carrot juice, which had been found by a family member in the hotel room where the patient had been staying during the month before being hospitalized. The hotel room had no refrigerator. The bottle, which had a “Best if Used By” date of September 19, 2006 had a different lot number than the bottle associated with the Georgia cases. On September 29, botulinum toxin was identified in carrot juice from the bottle found in the patient’s hotel room; the toxin was subsequently identified as botulinum toxin type A. The Hillsborough County Health Department and CDC notified FDA, public health officials in all 50 states, and infection-control practitioners in Hillsborough County about the botulism case and implicated product.
The carrot juice consumed by these four patients was manufactured by Bolthouse Farms, Inc., and distributed in all 50 states, Mexico, Canada, and Hong Kong with the labels “Bolthouse Farms 100% Carrot Juice,” “Earthbound Farm Organic Carrot Juice,” and “President’s Choice Organics 100% Pure Carrot Juice.” On September 29, GDPH and the Georgia Department of Agriculture recommended that Georgia residents not purchase or consume Bolthouse Farms carrot juice. That same day, the FDA warned consumers not to drink Bolthouse Farms carrot juice with “Best if Used By” dates of November 11, 2006 or earlier (i.e., all bottles produced before the date the warning was issued), and Bolthouse Farms issued a voluntary recall of these products.