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Home Canning: Protect Yourself from Botulism

About Botulism

Botulinum toxin is produced by the germ Clostridium botulinum. This toxin can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and even cause death. Foodborne botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by eating foods that are contaminated with a nerve toxin called botulinum toxin. Even taking a small taste of food containing this toxin can be deadly. Most US outbreaks of foodborne botulism are caused by home-processed and home-canned foods. Home-canned vegetables are the most common cause of foodborne botulism outbreaks in the United States.

Protect yourself from botulism: When in doubt, throw it out!

  • Any food that may be contaminated with botulinum toxin should be thrown out. See Safely dispose of food and cans that may be contaminated below.
  • Never taste the product to determine if it is safe. Do not taste or eat foods from containers that are leaking, have bulges or are swollen, look damaged or cracked, or seem abnormal in appearance.
  • When you open a jar of commercially or home-canned food, thoroughly inspect the product. Do not taste or eat foods that are discolored, moldy, or smell bad. Do not use products that spurt liquid or foam when the container is opened.

Inspect your commercial and home-canned foods

  • Don't open or puncture any unopened cans, commercial or home-canned, if you suspect contamination.
  • Suspect contamination if
    • The container is leaking, bulging or swollen, looks damaged or cracked or seems abnormal in appearance
    • The container spurts liquid or foam when opened
    • The food is discolored, moldy, or smells bad

Safely dispose of food and cans that may be contaminated

  • Put on rubber or latex gloves before handling open containers of food that you think may be contaminated.
  • Avoid splashing the contaminated food on your skin.
  • Place the food or can in a sealable bag.
  • Wrap another plastic bag around the sealable bag.
  • Tape the bags shut tightly.
  • Place bags in a trash receptacle for non-recyclable trash outside the home and out of reach of humans and pets.
  • Don't discard the food in a sink, garbage disposal, or toilet.
  • Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 2 minutes after handling food or containers that may be contaminated.

Wipe up spills of potentially contaminated food using a bleach solution

  • Add ΒΌ cup bleach for each 2 cups of water.
  • Completely cover the spill with the bleach solution.
  • Place a layer of paper towels, 5 to 10 towels thick, on top of the bleach.
  • Let the towels sit for at least 15 minutes.
  • Wipe up any remaining liquid with new paper towels.
  • Clean the area with liquid soap and water to remove the bleach.
  • Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 2 minutes.
  • Discard sponges, cloths, rags, paper towels, and gloves that may have come into contact with contaminated food or containers with the food.

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Home Canning

Know the risks of botulism from home-canned foods

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. For more information, see Home Canning: Protect Yourself from Botulism.

Use proper canning techniques

  • The best way to prevent foodborne botulism is by carefully following instructions for safe home canning.
  • Use a pressure canner or cooker and follow all specified home canning processing times for safe home canning of all foods.
    • Pay special attention to the processing times for low-acid vegetables like green beans, carrots, and corn.
  • Discard all swollen, gassy, or spoiled canned foods. (See Safely dispose of food and cans that are contaminated)
  • Boil home-processed, low-acid canned foods for 10 minutes before serving.
    • For higher altitudes, add 1 minute for each 1,000 feet of elevation.

Consult the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning

  • People who can foods in their own home should follow strict hygienic procedures and follow USDA recommended canning guidelines to reduce the risk of contaminating foods.
  • All home-canned foods should be canned following to the USDA canning guidelines [PDF - 11 pages], particularly low acid and tomato foods.
  • Low-acid and tomato foods not canned according to the recommendations in this publication or according to other USDA-endorsed recommendations are at risk of being contaminated with botulism.
    • Consider boiling home-canned foods for 10 minutes before eating them because the botulism toxin is destroyed by high temperatures.
      • However, foods known to be underprocessed according to the current standards and recommended methods should not be eaten and should be disposed of safely.

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