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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I'm considering buying a Coravin wine-preservation system. If the device creates a vacuum to protect the wine, can that become a botulism risk?
—D.S., Iowa City, Iowa
I get a lot of questions about Coravin, the wine-preservation device that lets you pour wine from a bottle without removing the cork. It’s pretty fascinating—there’s a hollow needle that is inserted through the cork of an unopened bottle, and the device replaces the removed wine with inert argon gas, which protects the wine from becoming oxidized.
The purpose of the argon gas is to fill the extra space that will be created when wine is poured out. Without the argon, the extra oxygen would start the oxidation process of wine, making it taste old and nutty. But argon is an inert gas—think of it as a blanket to protect the wine from oxygen. That is not the same thing as creating a vacuum.
Botulism is a rare food poisoning caused by toxins created by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. You’re right that botulism is sometimes associated with fruits and vegetables in vacuum-packed containers—the anaerobic botulinum bacteria thrive in an oxygen-free environment.
There are some wine-preservation devices that do pump air out of a wine container in an effort to create a vacuum, but those are typically not very reliable, and I can't find a single recorded instance of commercial wine ever being infected with the bacteria that cause botulism. However, there have been instances of tainted wine made in prison: Some inmates have contracted botulism from batches of "pruno," where potatoes have usually been the culprit.
There is no evidence, nor any reason to suspect, that using a Coravin could create a Clostridium botulinum risk.
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