Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dangers of Do-It-Yourself

The Virginia health authorities are investigating two cases of botulism, but it has nothing to do with the this year's Castleberry canned chili recall. The culprit this time is home-canned food.

Home-canning is a risky business - especially of "low acid" foods such as stews or vegetables. Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism, thrives in the absence of air. Its spores survive boiling water temperatures. The bug produces a neurotoxin that can cause a deadly paralysis. Contaminated cans often look completely normal.

Botulinum toxin can be destroyed by boiling for 10 minutes, so if you insist on home-canning, please be sure to boil the heck out of whatever you are about to eat, even if the contents of the can look and smell fine.


  1. Does this boiling need to happen before or after canning?

    Would freezing be a better alternative for many foods?

    What about fruits like peaches?


  2. Hi Jennifer

    1. The boiling needs to happen AFTER canning. When you reheat a home-canned food, bring it to a boil and hold the boil for ten minutes.

    2. Yes, freezing is a much safer alternative for storing things such as fruits and vegetables, if they are amenable to freezing.

    The major risk is for those foods that are defined as "low acid" (i.e., they are NOT acidic). This includes just about everything except tomatoes (and even those aren't always acid enough)!

    3. Preserving fruit as jam is another safe bet. The sugar that you add to the fruit makes the jam an unfriendly home for the food-poisoning bacteria.


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