Fermented beaver causes botulism outbreak


A delicacy among the Yupik Inuit in Alaska has caused 13 people to fall ill with botulism, reports the Anchorage Daily News. While the fermented, or so-called “stinky,” foods are usually made from fish heads, eggs or seal and walrus flippers, the Yupik also ferment beaver.

A meal of fermented beaver tails and feet were apparently responsible for the recent botulism outbreak in the village of Manokotak. Some of those who ended up in hospital showed typical symptoms of botulism which include droopy eyelids, blurry vision, trouble swallowing, respiratory problems, double vision, slurred speech and muscle weakness.

The use of plastic containers is thought to be responsible for this outbreak. Plastic provides an airtight environment in which the botulism toxin can grow. The traditional Yupik way of making fermented beaver involved digging a hole in the ground, putting in the beaver feet and tails and stuffing the hole with moss and grass — hardly an airtight environment.

Past cases of botulism in Nunavut and Nunavik have been associated with the preparation of fermented walrus or igunaq in less-than-ideal conditions. This year no cases of botulism were reported in either region.

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