Health & Medicine

Nacho cheese sauce sold at gas station blamed for botulism death

The Valley Oak Food and Fuel gas station in Walnut Grove has been linked to 10 cases of botulism, with one confirmed death, California health officials said.
The Valley Oak Food and Fuel gas station in Walnut Grove has been linked to 10 cases of botulism, with one confirmed death, California health officials said. Sammy Caiola

One person has died of botulism after eating nacho cheese sauce from a Walnut Grove gas station, California health officials confirmed Monday. The man was one of 10 people who fell ill with the rare form of food poisoning in recent weeks after eating food purchased at Valley Oak Food and Fuel.

The nacho cheese sauce tested positive for the toxin that causes botulism, a severe illness marked by vomiting, blurry vision and gradual paralysis, the California Department of Public Health announced. The gas station stopped selling the cheese sauce on May 5. The state agency believes there is no continuing risk to the public.

Officials could not confirm Monday how the cheese was being stored and whether the outbreak could affect other gas stations.

“While there are still unanswered questions about this outbreak, these tragic illnesses are important reminders to be vigilant about food safety,” said state Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith in a statement.

The state did not identify the victim, but according to the San Francisco Office of the Medical Examiner, Martin Galindo-Larios Jr., 37, of Antioch, died Thursday in what’s being investigated as a botulism case.

According to a GoFundMe page created by Galindo-Larios’ relatives in Rio Vista, the father of two died after several weeks in the hospital. Sacramento County health officials said the other victims had been hospitalized in serious condition.

On May 6, Sacramento County inspectors impounded one bag of Montecito nacho cheese tortilla chips and one small container of nacho chips, according to an inspection report. Two days later they impounded four bags of Gehl Foods cheese sauce, the report said.

In a statement, Gehl Foods, a food and beverage facility in Wisconsin, said it was notified by the Food and Drug Administration that “Gehl Foods’ nacho cheese was among the products seized at the Walnut Grove gas station during inspection. We immediately retested samples from the relevant lot of cheese, and it remains clear of any contamination. To ensure the integrity of those test results, we also sent multiple samples to an independent lab, which confirmed our findings.”

“Gehl’s facilities remain safe for food production and all of our food samples continue to test negative for any contaminants,” the statement continued. “There is no recall of Gehl’s nacho cheese product.”

Montecito Roadhouse, a chip company in Maine, did not immediately return requests for comment Monday afternoon. The county cited the gas station with failure to protect food from contamination.

The owners of the gas station would not comment on site earlier this month, and could not be reached Monday.

At least six victims are taking legal action against the gas station and Gehl Foods, said Bill Marler, a food safety attorney who is representing the patients. Two of the patients are teenagers, both of whom are in the hospital, he said. Lavinia Kelly, a 33-year-old Sacramento mother who has filed a lawsuit, is in the intensive care unit and cannot speak due to paralysis, her husband Ricky Torres said.

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola