I am a little.paranoid because just today my son had some fried rice he was going to bring to school in a thermos like container. The food wasn't really that hot and I explained to him by the time he ate it it would be at room temp for almost 6 hours and he could get sick of he ate it. So not thinking I left the container at my house on the counter to throw away. I got distracted and didn't end up throwing it away until late the evening. So in total the food was in an air tight thermos at room temp for about 16 hours. I am worried that the amount of time in which botulism could have grown? Of course I did not eat it but it it could have grown botulism and then in turn could be at risk of botulism spores forming that quickly? Because I did smell the food when I threw it away for some reason and now I am scared to have been exposed to spores. Also after rinsing out the container now I would have trace food on other dishes in the sink and normal washing would not kill the botulism? Just trying to see if me and my family are at any risk? Thank you!!

  • Sorry, nobody in the world can predict your personal risk from a single meal, or a single exposure to unsafe food. You already know that you didn't follow food safety guidelines, there is no additional information we can give you beside personal gut feeling, which is off topic for the site. – rumtscho Feb 19 at 15:10

It doesn't sound like you have anything to worry about. It's very possible that botulism or some other organism grew in that time in those conditions, so you were right to throw the food away.

You can't get botulism or other foodborne illnesses from smelling food, you'd have to actually eat the food to get sick, which you wisely didn't do. Thoroughly cleaning the container will get rid of any contamination on it and make it safe to use again. I wouldn't worry about the sink personally, just give it a rinse afterwards.

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    Is there even a non-neglibible risk though? Even though a thermos is kinda airtight, there IS air inside of it. Botulism grows in anaerobic conditions. Additionally, if the food was properly cooked, it would have killed off existing botulinium bacteria. – John W. Feb 2 '20 at 12:44
  • You can have anaerobic conditions in food exposed to the air @JohnW. I'd say the risk of botulism is pretty low but not negligible, it's other food nasties I'd be more concerned about. – GdD Feb 3 '20 at 13:05

I think there is no recorded case of anyone getting botulism that way. Inhalation botulism is possible in theory via the use of bioweapons https://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/our-work/publications/botulinum-toxin-botulism-fact-sheet . There are also an isolated case of two cocaine users getting it in France https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/43/5/e51/507425 but they may have lied about injecting drugs also (which is a known way).

I'd say even by eating this food the risk of botulism was near zero (other bacteria on the other hand...). Botulism usually thrives (and produces enough toxin) in conditions where other bacteria were suppressed.

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