Man's death tied to California botulism outbreak

Health officials traced a botulism outbreak to contaminated nacho cheese sold at this gas station in Walnut Grove, Calif.

CBS Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A botulism outbreak linked to contaminated nacho-cheese dip sold at a Northern California gas station has killed one man and left at least nine other people hospitalized, health officials said.

The San Francisco County coroner's office identified the man who died as Martin Galindo-Larios Jr., 37.

On Monday, Matt Conens, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, declined to release further information on the death, the condition of the other victims, or the status and extent of the investigation into the weeks-old outbreak.

An online fundraising page set up on GoFundMe said Galindo-Larios was married and the father of two small children. Family members said he had fallen into a coma and was on a ventilator before he died. Family members did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. 

Tests have confirmed the botulism toxin was present in nacho-cheese dip sold at a gas station in the Sacramento suburb of Walnut Grove, the state health agency said Monday in a statement.

The agency said last week the container and cheese dip were removed May 5, and that authorities believe the contamination posed no further risk to the public.

It was not clear whether authorities think the contamination occurred at the station or if they were checking other locations.

Wisconsin-based food company Gehl Foods, which distributed the cheese, says it is working with federal, state and local health officials to determine what caused the contamination.

The company says it retested samples from the lot of cheese linked to the outbreak and that it's clear of contamination. It also sent samples to an independent lab which confirmed the findings.

Botulism, a comparatively rare kind of food poisoning, can lead to paralysis, breathing difficulty and sometimes death. Survivors often are forced to spend weeks or months on ventilators to help them breathe.

Even with the anti-toxin treatment, there is no guarantee patients will fully recover, Dr. Oliva Kasirye, a health inspector with the Sacramento County Public Health Department who has been part of the ongoing investigation, told CBS Sacramento.

"If there are any muscles that have been paralyzed from the toxin, it's not reversed by the anti-toxin. That's a process that could take time and that's why the recovery is very slow," Kasirye said.

A major outbreak of food-borne botulism in 2015, when at least 29 people fell ill, was traced to a church potluck in Ohio. Authorities blamed potato salad made from potatoes that had been canned improperly at home.