From the dirt to our plate; the trials and realities of first-time farm ownership

The Horrors – Improper Canning and Preserving

Canned Whole Tomatoes

This topic is very close to my heart because I do love canning and preserving but I never thought to consider the impact improper canning could have in my life…until now.  My concern is not just for my friend, but for all of those out there canning or preserving for the first time.

While sitting with a couple friends yesterday the topic of canning came up.  I for one have to say, I was internally excited because I never thought I’d see the day my friend would have a huge garden, let alone be canning.  I am so proud of her!  However, the three of us went on to discuss her method and what it revealed was quite shocking.

I never knew people actually used the dishwasher to can food (not just sterilize jars but to process food).  I also never realized it was possible for tap water to be hot enough to heat a jar and create a vacuum seal with the lid.  And the biggest part, it never occurred to me that first-time canners might not know these processes are not safe.

Proper canning techniques are a necessity when expecting a shelf-stable, long-term, safe outcome in food preservation.  Without proper sterilization bacteria can blossom and that can create havoc within the human body.  Not a pleasant thing to contemplate when you are sitting down to a big plate of chips and salsa!

Botulism is my number one worry when it comes to prepping food for shelf storage.  Most think heat can kill all bacteria, but in the case of Botulism Spores, we are talking about a minimum temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit!  Just for comparison sake, water boils at 212F.  Foods prepared for commercial sale are processed at 250F!  The kicker in all of this?  Botulism THRIVES in temps 40F-100F, with less than 2% oxygen, in moist, low-acid environments.  This sounds a lot like the inside of a canning jar to me!

Toxins produced by Botulism Spores can produce deadly toxins within 3-4 days.  If eaten, symptoms can start to occur in as little as 12 hours or up to (OMG) 10 days!  Typical symptoms of poisoning are difficulty swallowing, muscle weakness, drooping eyelids, difficulty breathing, slurred speech, vomiting, urinary incontinence and sometimes diarrhea.  Needless to say, no salsa is worth that!  Even worse, these symptoms can progress to paralytic ileus with severe constipation eventually leading to full-body paralysis – that includes your respiratory system folks!

Most first-time canners are not aware of the importance of sterilization and food safety.  Various home canning books are out there and either they fail to read them or they take shortcuts found online.  Dishwasher canning for example – DANGEROUS!  Most dishwasher’s water temperatures only reach 170F or 200F if you are lucky.  Tap water, if you can stick your hand in it, it’s a good rule of thumb that its not hot enough!

I’m not going to school you in proper canning technique but I can offer you a few resources to help you can safely.  Beyond the internet there are many canning books out there with detailed instruction on proper canning methods.  Ball offers many options, the most popular being Ball Blue Book.  Many states have local extension offices which offer online education sources.  Better yet, the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a wonderful site dedicated to all forms of preservation!

As always, educate yourself.  Keep your family safe and ensure the viability (and safety) of your garden grown goodies all year long!

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