Caution: health risks with home-made herbal oils

Caution: health risks with home-made herbal oils

Herbal oils and vegetables pickled in oil pose health risks
Home-made herbal oils and vegetables in oil such as peppers, chilli or eggplants are popular in many private households. However, there is a risk of the spread of pathogenic germs, which is why the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) advises against "producing and storing self-produced products such as vegetables in oil or herbs in oil in private households."

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has addressed the question of whether there is a risk of food poisoning from Clostridium botulinum toxins in the case of self-produced herbal oil and pickled vegetables if these foods are produced in stock and kept for some time in the household. The analysis of the available data had shown that "the manufacturing processes in the private household cannot ensure that the multiplication of Clostridium (C.) botulinum and the formation of botulinum toxin in the products is generally prevented," said the BfR. Storage of home-made products such as chilli or garlic oil, vegetables in oil or herbs in oil in private households is therefore not advisable.

Formation of dangerous neurotoxins
If the herbal oils and the pickled vegetables are heated sufficiently before consumption, any germs that may be present can generally be completely destroyed. But the homemade foods are often also intended for direct consumption and the bacteria they contain can become a problem. "Especially in the event that the products are not heated sufficiently before consumption or are not used for cooking and roasting, but are intended for the preparation of salads and other raw dishes", according to the BfR there is a health risk. After a longer storage period, bacteria of the genus C. botulinum can multiply in the self-produced foods, which in the worst case cause a life-threatening disease of botulism. According to the BfR, the bacterium only reproduces in the absence of oxygen and is able to form so-called spores, which are very resistant and also survive unfavorable environmental influences. These spores can be found on almost all foods of animal and especially vegetable origin.

Impending disease of botulism
In conditions without the presence of oxygen and with a sufficient supply of nutrients - such as those found in herbal oils - the bacteria can form neurotoxins that trigger botulism in humans, warns the BfR. According to the institute, these neurotoxins are absorbed by eating contaminated food. A disease of botulism initially shows up with unspecific symptoms such as gastrointestinal disorders, nausea and vomiting. In the further course, "the typical signs of illness such as double vision, pupillary rigidity, speech disorders and later respiratory paralysis and suffocation with full consciousness appear", reports the BfR. A total of 36 cases of botulism in humans were reported in Germany from 2008 to 2013, including at least one death.

Complete killing of the germs difficult to ensure
According to the BfR, there are a number of different production variants and recommended tips on how to proceed in the production of vegetables or herbs in oil, whereby the plant-based foods should be put into a corresponding one directly or after different pretreatment (e.g. washing, cutting, drying, heating) Be given a vessel that is filled with the desired oils. Since there is no more oxygen in the finished product due to the addition of oil, there are good conditions for an increase in C. botulinum and the formation of neurotoxins. To avoid this, the usual kitchen hygiene rules must be followed during the preparation, but it is difficult to achieve complete removal or killing of the bacteria in the household, the BfR warned. Washing the vegetables already leads to a reduction in the germ load and heating can also reduce the load. However, a reliable killing of C. botulinum and especially the spores is "only guaranteed when heated to at least 121 ° C" and "this temperature cannot be reached by boiling in the household", explains the BfR. If the heating temperature is too low, there is even the danger that “any bacteria that may be present will first be stimulated to form resistant spores that can later germinate again.”

Store herbal oils in a cool place
Accordingly, C. botulinum and the formation of neurotoxins can be expected in the production of vegetables and herbs in oil. If the finished product is intended for storage, the multiplication of the bacteria must be prevented so that no toxin production threatens. The BfR explains that factors such as existing nutrients, available water and temperature have to be taken into account. The acidity also plays a crucial role. "The multiplication of C. botulinum is inhibited more and more with decreasing temperature and shortened storage period, decreasing water content and increasing acidity, until finally no multiplication takes place," explains the institute. For this reason, manufacturers must know exactly how much acid the product contains and how much water is still available to the microorganisms in order to determine the shelf life at a certain storage temperature. Cooling to below eight degrees Celsius and often even below three degrees Celsius is usually a requirement. However, many consumers are not aware that herbal oils actually belong in the fridge.

Multiplication of the bacteria cannot be excluded with certainty
Even with industrially manufactured products, the risk of an increase in C. botulinium cannot be completely ruled out, as reported by the rapid warning system of the European Union, reports the BfR. For example, a product recall based on the detection of C. botulinum in "Garlic in oil" from Germany (2003) and an outbreak by "Zucchini and tomatoes in oil" from Germany (2015) are documented. A safe product can only be manufactured under strictly controlled conditions. In the case of hobby production in private households, however, the individual parameters such as water content and acid cannot be adequately recorded. So it is not ensured that an increase and toxin formation of Clostridium botulinum in the products is prevented. BfR therefore strongly advises against storing the self-produced products. (fp)

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