Your Guidelines For Food Safety
Guidelines For Food Safety.....The Risks
Canning food isn't something you want to take chances on - be as sanitary as you can, whenever you can! Although there's no need to be on pins and needles every time you eat your own canned food, you do need to be aware that botulism, (food poisoning), is a risk that you face. It can cause serious illness and even death, depending on the severity of the case. Following modern guidelines for food safety is the best way to avoid this.
According to statistics, 700 people have died of botulism since people have begun canning in this country. But remember, home canning methods have
improved greatly over the years. Canning experts have come up with some excellent guidelines for food safety. Techniques your grandma may have used are now considered dangerous and unsanitary. Nevertheless, it's definitely not something to play around with!
What is botulism?
Botulism, or Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum., is a serious illness caused by eating contaminated food. Although it is dangerous, it is usually not fatal if treated immediately.
Botulism spores are basically everywhere ~ they appear in both soil and untreated water all around the world. The bacteria spores are harmless; but when they grow, they produce a highly toxic poison that is very dangerous and can even be fatal.
How do you get botulim?
In foodborne botulism, you get it by consuming spoiled or improperly handled food. Home-canned food is a common culprit of botulism; but this is not a problem if you follow guidelines for food safety. Infant botulism is very serious; but as long as it is treated, it is usually not fatal.
Most cases of botulism occur in improperly canned food. In cases of infant botulism, honey and corn syrup are the main causes.
The reason why botulism can grow so easily in canned foods is because canned foods contain no oxygen. Botulism is an anaerobic bacteria; meaning that it grows without air. It also needs a constant temperature of 40* - 120*F; and it likes to grow in moist, low-acid foods - like meats and vegetables. This is why an improperly canned jar of beef is an accident just waiting to happen.
What are the symptoms of botulism?
The sypmtoms of botulism are blurred vision, dry mouth, drooping eyelids, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, severe nausea, high fever, diarhhea and aches and pains. A severe case includes all of the above, respitory failure, and often, death.
These symptoms normally occur 12-38 hours after ingesting contaminated food; however, it may take up to 10 days for symptoms to appear.
Is home-canned food even safe? How can you prevent botulism?
Home canning, when done correctly, (check those guidelines for food safety at the bottom of the page!) is very safe and many times more reliable than commercially canned foods. (Believe it or not, commercially canned foods do experience botulism outbreaks; only rarely, of course. But it does happen.) As long as you follow basic guidelines for food safety, you'll do just fine. It's when you get lazy or try to "substitute" or "re-use" things that you can get into trouble! Canning is not an area to try to pinch pennies on. You want to get the right equipment, the first time.
The other important factor to safely canned food is making sure that you process the food long enough in your canner. Because botulism grows in an anearobic envirement (no oxygen), simply sealing the lids does nothing towards killing botulism. It is the heat that will kill these dangerous spores.
Since botulism spores are actually somewhat heat-resistant, you need to process your jars at a very high temperature (home pressure canners can get up to 240*F) for a very long time. Because of this, some people will heat their jars of food (after they have already been canned) for 20 minutes before eating it, just to be sure.
The only way to kill botulism spores is by heating the food to a very high temperature, which is why pressure canners are so important! A water bath canner will not achieve the high temperature needed to get rid of the spores.
Isn't it okay to can like my grandma did?
Mmmmm....no. Probably not.
Techinques your grandma may have used, like water bath canning vegetables and meats, rather than pressure canning them, are potential food poisoning events. Other examples, such as using mayonnnaise jars for canning, are just not wise. Yes, Grandma survived (and obviously you did, too), but it's just not worth the risk.
If you want to be absolutely 100% safe from food poisoning, stick to modern, proven guidelines for food safety.
Here is a list of old-fashioned canning methods that have been proven dangerous and unsafe:
*using mayonnaise jars
*water bath canning low-acid foods (like vegetables)
*chemicals and preserving powders in place of canning
*using wax to seal the jars
*using jars with wire bails or glass caps
What's wrong with solar canning, oven canning, microwave canning, or dishwasher canning?
Simple - the heat is simply not adequate to kill the bacteria that is in the food. When you can food, the idea is to heat the food in the jars to such a high temperature for a certain amount of time, so that it kills the bacteria residing there. If you use any of the above methods to can your food, the heat will not rise to the correct temperature needed; or, in the case of oven canning, you will have erratic and irregular temperatures due to the coils in your oven.
Just what kind of food and safety precautions do I need to take?
Good question. Here's a basic overview of guidelines for food safety:
Always wash your hands before canning. Always, always, always.
Wash your kitchen counters off thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Dirty counters are a sure-fire way to get bacteria in your canned food. So keep it clean!
Always wash any food you plan to can. Besides this, cut out and discard any bad spots or bruises you see. This will eliminate bacteria.
Learn to recognize a bad jar
One of the most important steps you can take to avoiding food poisoning is learning to recognize bad jars of food. Obvious signs, such as a bad odors or serious discoloration, are tell-tale signs of food spoilage.
However.... be aware that you cannot smell, taste, or see botulism. You might have a jar of food that looks great, smells great, and even tastes great: but if it wasn't processed long enough, then you are taking a major risk. Botulism spores are not able to be seen, so there is no way to know if your food is contaminated just by looking at it. That is why pressure canning your meats and vegetables for the correct time period is so important.
Check your lidsSometimes, due to a variety of reasons, a lid may not have sealed correctly, which means air is able to get into the jar and ruin the food. Step #1? Check your sealed lids before you open the jar. An easy way to test this is by pressing firmly on the top of the lid. If the lid is solid and does not pop up and down, it is a tight seal. However, if it does pop, the food should be discarded immediately.
Wiping and drying the rims of your jars with a damp cloth before you place the lids on them is vital to a good seal. If you are canning sticky or greasy foods, this is especially important.
Is it safe to eat canned food that is several years old?
Home canned foods are best eaten within a year, two years at most. Although your food probably won't automatically "go bad" after the two year mark, you will lose quality and nutrition. And there is always reason to feel uneasy when you eat home-canned foods that are several years old. Commercially canned foods have a longer expiration date, since they process their foods more reliably. When in doubt, through it out.
Mark the tops of your lids with the date of when it was canned. This is a good way to keep track of how old everything is.
Guidelines For Food Safety Checklist
When canning, remember to always follow basic safety precautions.
Never use your pressure canner if you are unsure that it is working properly.
As a rule of thumb, don't ever water-bath vegetables and meats! For more information on why this is important,
Never open or consume a jar of canned food that appears spoiled. If the food in the jar has a bad odor or discoloration, do not eat it.
If a jar of canned food does not "pop" when you open the lid, do not eat it!
Always work with clean, sterilized equipment. Although your canner does not necessarily need to be washed, make sure all of your jars, lids, rims, and any other tool that will touch the food is meticulously clean. You can sterilize your jars and rims by boiling them in water for a few minutes. Never boil your lids. Boiling them will affect their seal later on!
Never can spoiled, bruised, or molded food. If the food has a bad spot on it, cut it out and wash it thoroughly.
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