The Deadly Toxin Outbreak That Spurred America’s Food Safety System

To Prevent Botulism in Tinned Goods, Scientists and Canners Worked With the Government to Protect the Public

My seventh-grade science teacher repeated two facts so often that they are still crystal clear in my memory. The first was the definition of osmosis: “the passing of a substance from a lesser concentration to a greater concentration through a semi-permeable membrane.” The other was this: dented canned food can poison you with botulism, the deadliest toxin on the planet.

Why these two facts seemed among the most important things to teach 12-year-olds in the 1990s is not exactly clear, but it stands to reason that at least the latter fact …