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I bought some Garlic flatbread naan from Trader Joe's today and noticed it has pieces of actual garlic in it. The bread is sold with the wraps and other non-refrigerated bread. It comes in a plastic bag, twisted at the top with a typical plastic bread clip to keep it closed.

Since garlic can cause botulism in certain situations, is it possible to get botulism from this type of bread? Shouldn't it be sold refrigerated? Would the bread be dry enough and/or would there be enough oxygen in the enclosed bag to prevent botulism growth?

I ate one of them before realizing it had pieces of actual garlic in it, and now I'm concerned! I know it is likely safe, otherwise it could not be sold this way, but I'd like to ease my mind about it! Thanks!

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    "I know it is likely safe" I would note that, while sometimes food sold at grocery stores is sometimes recalled for being unsafe, it's typically due to some sort of mistake. It's highly unlikely that a major chain would develop a product that would blatantly violate safety standards, especially around botulism. As I understand it, botulism from canned foods was one of the key problems that led to the creation of the FDA.
    – JimmyJames
    Jan 19 at 22:12
  • Why do you consider this to be a risk? You phrase it as though garlic is inherently insanitary. Jan 20 at 13:12
  • @MarkMorganLloyd Garlic in oil is a botulism risk if it's improperly stored, presumably they're worried about the same thing happening here. Jan 22 at 21:08

4 Answers 4

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C. Botulinum is what is called an "obligate anaerobe". It requires an almost oxygen free environment in which to reproduce its spores. These spores then produce the botulism toxin, which is what makes us really ill.

The only way the bread would be free of oxygen, is if it was in special packaging.

I found an article (see below) that does say that scientist believe it’s possible for the spores to reproduce in the “modified atmosphere” packaging sometimes used for bread. Most notable partially baked products. The article does describe the risk as “theoretical” though. As far as I know, “modified atmosphere” packaging is hermetically sealed. So unless the plastic clip on the Naan bread packaging is decorative, or really amazingly good… then from anecdotal experience, I don’t think your bread will be in a modified atmosphere.

I can’t find my source now but I did also read a quote from someone in the food safety industry saying that there have been cases in the UK, of people getting botulism poisoning after eating garlic bread but that the bread in question was made using garlic infused oil. Which I would suspect was home made given the fact that commercially produced oils use garlic that is usually dried or has had it’s pH lowered so that C. Bot cannot grow in it. The cases could also have been from a few decades ago.

So if you can’t categorically rule out the possibility of C. Bot spores growing in bread, it comes down to a question of risk. To which I’d raise another point from the article… you might worry about the garlic but what about the flour? The flour could have been contaminated with C. Bot spores. And baking temperatures, whilst high enough to destroy the botulism toxin (85c for 1 minute), aren’t high enough to kill the spores. But I doubt you worry about every loaf of white, or bagel because the risk is so small.

Is your Naan bread safe to eat? Almost certainly yes.

Could it get you sick? Possibly.

Sick because of botulism? Statistically speaking, no.

Source article: https://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Article/2009/12/01/Scientists-explore-possibility-of-botulism-in-bread-and-buns

All this makes me wonder just what the hell they put in those canned breads from Japan?

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    For canned bread, you shouldn’t need to worry, because proper canning alone will deal with pretty much anything that can cause spoilage. Whether there are additives for other reasons, is another question.
    – Stephie
    Jan 19 at 5:35
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    @Stephie it doesn't sound like "canned bread" is canned in the preserving sense. The commercial ones rely on chemical preservation. And that makes sense because bread that has reached an internal temperature of over 120C in canning wouldn't be very enjoyable.
    – Chris H
    Jan 19 at 6:36
  • botulinum is also a pretty slow grower in anything but optimal conditions, which is why preserves have a higher risk as it gives the bacteria the time to reproduce to toxic levels. Even under modified atmosphere bread doesn't really last long enough to do so.
    – Borgh
    Jan 19 at 9:08
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    @ChrisH It seems like you're right; one Manufacturer's FAQ describes the process: "The can with the batter is then cooked in our retorts equipment used for the thermal sterilization of foods, with steam at atmospheric pressure for 3 hours" (emphasis mine). This surprised me, because the bread is indeed not very enjoyable. Interestingly, there are no preservatives at all (aside from salt) listed in its ingredients.
    – Vaelus
    Jan 19 at 14:06
  • @Vaelus some have pretty short shelf lives too
    – Chris H
    Jan 19 at 14:11
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There are numerous ways for commercial food manufacturers to control c. botulinum...heat treatment, pressure treatment, pH, water activity control, chemicals, and a combination of the above. It is a significant concern for any food manufacturer, so this type of control is taken seriously. I highly doubt Naan, distributed by a large grocer such as Trader Joes, would come with a botulism risk. Most likely, the manufacturer has used a multi-pronged approach to ensure our safety and their liability.

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Oxygen is extremely toxic to Clostridium botulinum bacteria, and the ambient atmosphere contains a lot of oxygen. Unless the bread is packed in airtight sealed bag with inert gas, there is no way that C. botulinum could grow and produce the toxin. And reading your description gives me the impression that your bread is not packed in such an airtight bag. Therefore, it is probably safe to eat.

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One simple (and tasty) way to alleviate your concerns, however vanishingly small the risk is (and it is, as already covered in other answers) is to heat the bread before eating it, which botulism toxin can't handle. Toast it or reheat it in the oven. Avoid the microwave (which will bring the heat, but not in a tasty way...)

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    Botulism toxin is a heat resistant molecule, so you need to raise the internal temperature to high temperatures for some time (e.g. 5 minutes) to inactivate it. Neither toasting nor reheating in the oven are likely to produce the necessary temperatures to do this. Jan 19 at 14:43
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    @JackAidley You're confusing spores and toxin. They are different.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jan 19 at 15:54
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    No, I'm not. The spores are also heat resistant - much more so, in fact - but the toxin itself is also pretty tough. Cooking from scratch is likely to get things hot enough and for long enough, but simple reheating or toasting is another matter. Jan 19 at 15:55
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    80 degrees is what I'm calling a high temperature, and one I doubt you'll hit for five minutes by toasting. Jan 19 at 17:13
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    @JackAidley also only the surface is going to get hot, and bread is a great insulator so you'd have no guarantee of anything even slightly below the surface (the spots most likely to form botulism, in fact). This is a terrible answer.
    – eps
    Jan 19 at 20:55

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