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Baked potatoes stored in aluminum foil at room temperature may cause life-threatening botulism, Health Canada is warning consumers.

The advisory was issued after a restaurant patron in Meaford, Ont., was felled by the paralyzing, potentially fatal illness after eating a potato last Friday. The man, in his early 30s, is on life support.

"This is very rare. I've never heard of anything like this in Canada," said Irina Frenkel, a food safety specialist at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. But she said the "baked potato was definitely implicated."

Ms. Frenkel said leaving the potato unrefrigerated in the oxygen-free environment created by the foil wrapping allowed deadly Clostridium botulinum spores to grow.

Botulism is a form of bacterial food poisoning that can cause dizziness and diarrhea and that, untreated, can lead to gradual paralysis and death. The toxin, one of the deadliest known, has no odour or taste.

Hazel Lynn, the acting medical officer of health for the Grey-Bruce Health Unit, said the only reason the man is alive is that he was treated quickly, after diagnosing botulism himself;

"He knew the potato wasn't right so when he got sick he looked up 'rotten potato' on the Internet and figured out he had botulism."

Dr. Lynn said the case should alert home cooks as well as restaurants, many of which partly bake their potatoes ahead of time to speed up service.

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