Home Canning and Botulism
It is summertime and time to harvest the delicious produce you’ve been growing. You may be thinking about home canning your garden goodies to preserve them. Beware! If home canning is not done the proper way, your canned vegetables and fruits (as well as other foods, including meats and seafood) could cause botulism.
What is botulism?
Botulism is a rare but potentially deadly illness caused by a poison most commonly produced by a germ call Clostridium botulinum. The germ is found in soil and can survive, grow, and produce a toxin in certain conditions, such as when food is improperly canned. The toxin can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and even kill you. You can’t see, smell, or taste botulinum toxin, but taking even a small taste of food containing this toxin can be deadly.
What are the symptoms of botulism?
Botulism is a medical emergency. If you or someone you know has symptoms of foodborne botulism, see your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.
Symptoms may include the following:
A thick-feeling tongue
How can I keep myself and others safe when it comes to home - canned foods?
Many cases of foodborne botulism have happened after people ate home-canned preserved, or fermented foods that were contaminated with toxin. The foods became contaminated because they were not canned/processed correctly.
You can take steps to protect yourself, your family, and others when it comes to home-canned foods by following these tips:
1. Use up to date and proper canning techniques. Carefully follow the instructions for safe home-canning in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.
2. Use the right equipment for the kinds of foods you are canning.
Pressure caning is the only recommended method for canning low-acid foods. These foods are the most common sources of botulism linked to home-canning. Low- acid foods include almost every vegetable, some fruits, milk, all meats, fish and seafood.
Always use a properly sized pressure canner that meets USDA recommendations for pressure canning when canning low-acid foods. When you make your selection, be sure all parts of your pressure canner are in good condition.
*If your canner has a rubber gasket, make sure it is flexible and soft – not brittle, sticky, or cracked.
*Clean and remove any debris from the openings on small pipes or vents.
*If you live at a high altitude, check with your pressure canner manufacturer to adjust your canning process for safety.
*Vent the air from your canner for 10 minutes before you pressurize the canner.
Do not use a boiling water canner for low-acid foods because it will not protect against botulism. Do not use an electric, multi-cooker appliance, even if it has “canning” or “steaming” button on the front panel.
When in doubt, throw it out.
If there is any doubt whether safe canning guidelines have been followed, do not eat the food. Home-canned and store-bought food might be contaminated with toxin or other harmful germs if:
*the container is leaking, bulging, or swollen;
*the container looks damaged, cracked, or abnormal;
*the container spurts liquid or foam when opened; or
*the food is discolored, moldy, or smells bad.
If the container or food inside has any signs of contamination, throw it out! If any of the food spills, wipe up the spill using a solution of ¼ cup bleach for every 2 cups of water.
Never taste food to determine if it is safe. Do not taste or eat food that is discolored, moldy, or smells bad. Do not taste or eat food from cans that are leaking; have bulges or are swollen; or look damaged or cracked, or abnormal. Do not taste or eat food from a can that spurted liquid or foam when opened.
Information from CDC Home Canning and Botulism and USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning