Monday, June 13, 2022

11 Canning Mistakes That Can Kill You

Is canning dangerous? Canning food at home has been done for generations, and it's generally safe as long as you avoid these canning mistakes that can kill you.  Learn about home canning problems and how to avoid them to keep your family safe.

Canning Mistakes That Can Kill You

Canning food at home isn't difficult, but it needs to be treated with respect.  There is a lot of misinformation floating around the Internet (especially on Tik Tok) that I want to address.

Ultimately, it's your kitchen and your rules.  However, I urge you to do research and be safe.  No one wants to see a family member get sick from something that could have been prevented.

I can not stress enough following safe canning practices.  Botulism isn't anything to mess with.

While most home canners won't ever have a problem, there are some canning mistakes that can kill you.  

Let's talk about come common canning problems and solutions so you can feed your family safely.  

For safe canning recipes, check out these posts:

What Are Some Dangers Associated With Canning?

The main danger for canning problems is botulism.  Botulism is caused by a bateria, Clostridium botulinum, that produces a toxin.  

If you ingest it, it can attack your nervous system and paralyze your body and can even lead to death.

Botulism is one of the biggest canning mistakes that can kill you.  Therefore, it's very important to follow safe canning rules.  

The acid in some foods (namely fruits) prevents botulism from growing.  This is why most fruit can be safely canned in a water bath.

Botulism is also killed by high heat, which can only be achieved with pressure canning.  Boiling in a water bath canner for long periods of time will not kill botulism.  

For more canning problems and solutions, check out my posts on how to fix runny jam or runny jelly and what to do about canning jars not sealing.

I also recommend reading my canning supplies for beginners to see what you need to get started.  Keep track of your canning recipes by creating a binder with my printable canning journal pages.

Also check out how to clean and sanitize canning jars.

How Common is Botulism in Home Canning?

Is canning dangerous?  From 1996 to 2014 (the latest data I could find), there were 210 botulism outbreaks reported with 145 outbreaks due to home canning.  Thirty percent were from home canned vegetables, which are low acid.

This is why vegetables must be canned using a pressure canner to ensure that all of the bacteria is killed.  This is also why you must use the right sized jar to ensure that all of the food in the jar is heated to the right temperature.

Can You Survive Botulism Poisoning?

Yes, you can survive botulism.  In fact, people do recover in 90 to 95 percent of cases thanks to an antitoxin.

However, those who survive may be paralyzed for weeks or even months after exposure.  They may also have shortness of breath and fatigue for years after.

How Long Does it Take to Get Symptoms of Botulism?

The symptoms of botulism can start in as little as 12 hours after eating the food and up to 10 days after eating the food.

Since it can take a while, some people don't attribute it to the canned food, which can delay treatment.

How Do You Know if Your Canned Goods Have Botulism?

Botulism is one of the most serious canning problems.  If in doubt, throw it out!

Here are some things to look for in home canning problems:

  • The jar is damaged or cracked after storage.
  • The jar spurts liquid or foam when you open it.
  • The food is discolored, smells bad, or has visible mold.

Canning Problems and Solutions

1.  Not Using Safe and Tested Recipes

Canning is a science, and you can't make changes to trusted recipes because it can alter the pH of the food.  Some additives, like cinnamon or other spices, won't have an effect, but adding vegetables will throw off the pH.

I recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and the All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving.

2.  Oven, Dishwasher, or Open Kettle Canning

Oven canning is when you place sealed jars in the oven to heat them.  Some people also can in a dishwasher or with open kettle canning.  

This will make the jar seal, but it won't kill bacteria.

3.  Adding Flour or Starch

There are some approved recipes that have a thickener, but you can not add extra thickener.  This slows the rate at which the heat penetrates the food, which can cause colder pockets of food that don't get hot enough to kill bacteria.

4.  Adding Extra Vegetables

Vegetables are a low acid food.  If you add extra vegetables to salsa or spaghetti sauce recipes, for example, it can alter the pH and make the food unsafe for a water bath.

5. Altitude Adjustments

Boiling temperature is lower at higher altitudes, so you will need to add more pounds of pressure for pressure canning and process longer.

6.  Not Venting Your Pressure Canner

If you don't vent your pressure canner, you can get cold spots.  This can prevent part of the food from reaching the necessary temperature to kill bacteria.

7.  Not Testing Pressure Canning Equipment

You should have your dial gauges tested each year.  Most state offer this free of charge.  Call your local extension office for more information.

8.  Not Adding Acid to Tomatoes

Tomatoes are borderline for acid, so you'll need to add some acid (usually lemon juice) to water bath them.  The acid levels vary from variety, and it can also vary from when the tomatoes are picked.  Tomatoes picked after the vine is dead are lower in acid.

9.  Not Letting Your Pressure Canner Cool Naturally

Pressure canning time also includes heat and time from the cool down period.  It's important to let the pressure canner cool naturally.  

10.  Cold Packing for a Hot Pack Recipe

It's important to follow the directions exactly, especially in regards to temperature.  The processing times are for hot foods, so starting with cold food can prevent it from reaching the temperature needed to kill botulism.

11.  Processing Low Acid Foods in a Water Bath

Boiling water only gets up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  A pressure canner can reach 240 to 250 degrees, which is needed to kill botulism.

No matter how long you boil water, it will never get higher than 212 degrees.  Therefore, you can not simply process low acid foods for a longer time to kill the germs.

Yes, I know your grandmother did it.  We know better now, so we do better.  

Is canning dangerous?  Canning food at home isn't inherently dangerous, but you should treat it with respect and and avoid these home canning problems. 

Avoid these canning mistakes that can kill you to keep your family safe.

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