Home canning? Stay safe from botulism

March 1, 2017

Home canning? Stay safe from botulism

iStock-500359990.jpgHome-canning--it's a wonderful way to preserve the taste of your favorite summer fruits and vegetables. And it's making a comeback, with as many as 1 in 5 households nationwide now canning their own food.

Are you part of that comeback? Then here's something you and every home canner needs to know: If food isn't properly canned, it can be contaminated by bacteria that causes botulism, a serious illness.

That bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, is found in the soil. And it can multiply and produce a dangerous toxin in a sealed jar of food. This toxin affects the nerves and can cause paralysis and even death. Eating just a small amount of contaminated food can be life-threatening.

That's why it's so crucial to follow these safeguards when canning:

  • Use a pressure canner when canning meat, poultry, fish and low-acid vegetables (like green beans and corn). Boiling water canners will not protect against botulism in most foods. Jars of tomatoes, pickles and most fruits-foods that are high in acid are an exception.
  • Only use a pressure cooker that is specifically made for canning. And use the right size. Food may be undercooked in canners that are too small.
  • Be sure the gauge of the pressure cooker is accurate.

Spot danger

Also watch out for signs that home-canned food might be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum. Red flags include:

• The container is leaking, bulging or swollen.

• The container is cracked or looks damaged.

• The container spurts liquid or foam when opened.

• The food is discolored, moldy or smells bad.

If you suspect contamination, throw the food away. If any food spills, wipe up the spill using a diluted bleach solution of ¼ cup bleach for each two cups of water.

For more detailed directions on safe home canning, check out the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning at morehealth.org/canning.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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