Home canning is an excellent way to preserve garden produce and share it with family and friends, but it can be risky or even deadly if not done correctly and safely.
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.
Don’t let your canned veggies spoil
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 Don’t use outdated publications or cookbooks, even if they were handed down to you from trusted family cooks.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.
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.
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
- 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 you suspect home-canned food might be contaminated with the germs that cause botulism, throw the food away. 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.