Home Canning and Botulism
It's summer, and home gardeners are starting to harvest the delicious produce they've been growing this year. Did you know 1 in 5 U.S. households can their own food, and 65% of those households can vegetables? Home canning is a great way to preserve your garden goodies. But beware: if it's done the wrong way, the vegetables you worked so hard for could become contaminated by a germ that causes botulism, a serious illness that can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and even cause death. Read on to learn about the symptoms and the safe way to can so you can protect yourself, your family, and others when you share your home-canned goodies.
Don’t let your canned veggies spoil
Make your home-canned vegetables safe
- Use a pressure canner or cooker.
- Be sure the gauge of the pressure canner or cooker is accurate.
- Use up-to-date process times and pressures for the kind of food, the size of jar, and the method of packing food in the jar.
Follow these two tips to keep your canned vegetables safe and keep them from spoiling.
1. Use proper canning techniques.
Make sure your food preservation information is always current with up-to-date, scientifically tested guidelines. Don't use outdated publications or cookbooks, even if they were handed down to you from trusted family cooks.
You can find in-depth, step-by-step directions from the following sources:
- The National Center for Home Food Preservation
- USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning
- The state and county extension service of your state university
2. Use the right equipment for the kind of foods that you are canning.Always use a pressure canner or cooker. Pressure canning is the only recommended method for canning vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood. Pressure canning kills the germ that causes botulism when foods are processed at the correct time and pressure in pressure canners or cookers.
Do not use boiling water canners because they will not protect against botulism poisoning.
What is botulism?
Botulism is a rare, but serious illness caused by a germ called Clostridium botulinum. The germ is found in soil and can survive, grow, and produce toxin in a sealed jar of food. This toxin can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and even cause death. Even taking a small taste of food containing this toxin can be deadly.
Botulism is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms of foodborne botulism, seek medical care immediately.
Symptoms may include the following:
- Double vision
- Blurred vision
- Drooping eyelids
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry mouth
- Muscle weakness
Protect yourself from botulism: When in doubt, throw it out!
Home-canned vegetables are the most common cause of botulism outbreaks in the United States. From 1996 to 2008, there were 116 outbreaks of foodborne botulism reported to CDC. Of the 48 outbreaks that were caused by home-prepared foods, 18 outbreaks, or 38%, were from home-canned vegetables. These outbreaks often occur because home canners did not follow canning instructions, did not use pressure cookers, ignored signs of food spoilage, and were unaware of the risk of botulism from improperly preserving vegetables.
- Home-canned food might be contaminated if:
- The container is leaking, bulging, or swollen
- The container looks damaged, cracked, or abnormal
- The container spurts liquid or foam when opened
- The food is discolored, moldy, or smells bad
If any of the food spills, wipe up the spill using a dilute bleach solution (1/4 cup bleach for each 2 cups of water).
- Never taste home-canned food to determine if it is safe. Do not taste or eat foods from containers that are leaking, have bulges or are swollen, or look damaged, cracked, or abnormal.
- When you open a jar of home-canned food, thoroughly inspect the food. Do not taste or eat foods that are discolored, moldy, or smell bad. Do not eat food from a can that spurted liquid or foamed when it was opened.
- Do not open or puncture any unopened cans, commercial or home-canned, if you suspect contamination.
- General information about botulism (Clostridium botulinum)
- Botulism at FoodSafety.gov
- Foodborne Illness Q&A
- Medscape commentary: Botulism: Countering Common Clinical Misperceptions
- The Complete USDA Guide to Home Canning [PDF - 504KB]
- FoodSafety.gov Blog: Home-Canned Vegetables: Delicious and Safe
- National Center for Home Food Preservation
- Preserving Food at Home: A Self-Study
- So Easy to Preserve
- Temperatures for Food Preservation
- Processing Times
- pH Values for Foods
Recent Scientific Articles about Botulism
- Botulism Associated with Home-Fermented Tofu in Two Chinese Immigrants — New York City, March–April 2012
- Notes from the Field: Botulism From Drinking Prison-Made Illicit Alcohol – Arizona, 2012.
- National outbreak of type a foodborne botulism associated with a widely distributed commercially canned hot dog chili sauce [PDF – 537KB]
- Three outbreaks of foodborne botulism caused by unsafe home canning of vegetables--Ohio and Washington, 2008 and 2009
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