Marine mammal hunting? Store your meat wisely, health officials say
Meat should be stored in temperatures cooler than 4 C
With summer in full swing, officials in both Nunavut and Nunavik are warning the public to take care in how they preserve and prepare traditional foods.
Following the marine mammal harvest, which can include walrus, seal and beluga whale, the risk of botulism poisoning tends to rise over the summer months.
“On hot days, keeping the meat cold is the best way to make sure the toxin that causes botulism does not develop,” said Dr. Françoise Bouchard, director of Public Health at the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, in a news release.
“As soon as possible, the harvested meat must be chilled on ice, in the refrigerator or in the freezer; the same precaution applies when the meat arrives in homes and during preparation.”
Botulism is a toxin produced during the fermentation of meat or animal fat if the meat is not stored at a cool enough temperature, which should be four degrees Celsius or colder, health officials recommend.
Health officials recommend storing igunaq—walrus meat that is traditionally fermented in the ground—in a home or community freezer and waiting to begin the fermentation process in the fall, when temperatures are cooler.
Ingesting the botulism toxin affects the nervous system; it can cause paralysis and in serious cases can be fatal.
Botulism is believed to have killed an Inukjuak woman in her fifties last July, after she consumed beluga meat that later tested positive for Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism.
The meat in question had been harvested in neighbouring Umiujaq the previous month, when temperatures rose to 28 C.
Symptoms of botulism can include:
• fatigue, weakness and dizziness
• blurred or double vision
• dryness in the mouth, throat and nose and difficulty in swallowing and speaking
• nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and, less commonly, diarrhea
• paralysis that starts in the shoulders and arms and moves down the body
Symptoms of foodborne botulism generally begin 12 to 36 hours after consuming contaminated food; however, onset can begin as soon as six hours after exposure or as long as 10 days later.
Anyone who experiences those symptoms should go to their local health centre immediately, health officials say.
The GN provides information here on different methods of storing and preparing different country foods.