This is a guest post by Bonnie of Opportunity Farm Eastern WA
As a long-time Master Food Preserver, I applaud the recent interest in canning for long-term survival. However, I am appalled at the recklessness of those who think that anything that is commercially canned can be safely canned at home.
People who post instructions on-line for the home canning of bacon, butter, milk, lard, pickled eggs, refried beans, pumpkin puree, bread, and cake, without warnings about possible problems, are doing their readers a grave disservice. Home canned food that could make family members ill or even kill them is not a good survival tactic.
Many of those people say their methods are safe because, after all, they’re alive, aren’t they? It’s good to remember this truism: Past performance does not guarantee future results.
But, people ask, why are commercial canners able to safely can these foods but I can’t?
The answer to that is equipment. At home, we can’t do things with the rapidity of the commercial canneries; the food can cool too much. We also can’t get consistently high temperatures for many foods, especially the dense ones. And in spite of the faster processing, even commercially canned foods can still end up contaminated with botulism toxin.
Botulism toxin thrives in moist, airless, low-acid environments. The only way to kill the botulism spores while canning is to heat the contents of the jars to 240 degrees F. Because water boils at 212 degrees F. at sea level, and never gets any hotter, pressure canning with steam is a must. Steam under pressure can bring the temperature of the food in the jar up to 240 degrees.
Thick foods, such as refried beans, pumpkin puree, and even pickled eggs, are too dense to safely can at home. It’s easy to can beans and pumpkin chunks safely. They need only to be mashed when you are ready to use them.
Vegetables that are pickled in the modern way with vinegar, as opposed to fermentation, should be briefly processed in a water bath canner, or stored in the refrigerator. Pickled eggs should always be stored in the refrigerator. Neither water bath nor pressure canning pickled eggs are solutions. There are no tested recipes for canning pickled eggs.
Are modern pickled eggs any different than the pickled eggs that were a feature of old saloons? Not substantially. The main difference is that the saloon patrons usually ate those eggs within a few days. We are so used to the idea of keeping food around at room temperature that we forget how many of those foods are kept “fresh” with chemical food preservatives.
High-fat foods such as bacon, butter, and lard pose a different problem. The fat can protect botulism bacteria from being killed by the high heat of a pressure canner. The bacteria can then be shocked by the heat into producing the botulism toxin.
Canned cakes are perennial favorites of the “anything can be canned” bunch. Not only do they meet the botulism criteria of being moist, low acid, and airless, the center of the cake just doesn’t get hot enough to kill botulism. It doesn’t matter if the oven temperature is 350 degrees; the internal temperature will not get anywhere near 240 degrees.
The same holds true for bread. It’s much better to bake your cakes and breads fresh rather than depend on dubious canned baked goods. (I am not referring to fruit cakes that are sold in decorative tins. Those are preserved with alcohol, not canning.) If you feel you must preserve baked goods for the long term, put them in the freezer.
There are some foods that seem like they should be safe to can, but are not recommended. Milk is one of these. It is not dense, nor is it high in fat, but there are no official guidelines for canning milk at home. It might be perfectly safe, but no one really knows. It is incredibly expensive to test canning recipes and apparently no one has ponied up the money to pay for the testing.
A good rule of thumb is if there are no recipes available in trusted canning guides, then either no tests have been done, or it has been tested and found unsafe. Either way, it is safer to preserve the food some other way, use it fresh, buy a commercially canned product, or do without.
Another common error is to think that if the lid is sealed, that is, being held down by the vacuum in the jar, then all is good. That is true as far as mold and other bacteria go. But remember, botulism likes a vacuum. It is odorless, tasteless, and invisible. Correct canning procedures are the only guarantee that your home canned foods will be safe. Make sure you follow ALL the instructions for canning, including adjusting time or pressure for your elevation.
In spite of being a common bacteria, botulism poisoning is extremely rare. The main danger with the botulism toxin is that it damages nerves. In fact, the military considers it to be a biological weapon. There is no cure. If the anti-toxin is taken soon enough, the damage can be halted, but never reversed. The nerve damage causes severe health problems and can shorten one’s life.
Does this mean that home canned food is teeming with botulism? Not at all. Safely canning food at home is a simple matter. Just follow the instructions and recipes that can be found in canning guides such as the Ball Blue Book and So Easy to Preserve, published by the Cooperative Extension/The University of Georgia. The Extension website – National Center for Home Food Preservation – is www.uga.edu/nchfp. It’s loaded with safe recipes. Handouts from your state Extension office are usually available for free or a small fee.
If you have questions about food preservation, Extension employees can usually get you in touch with a Master Food Preserver.
Note M.D. adds – I reccomend the” Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving“, it’s easy to understand with good illustrations and tasty recipes…
Agree, disagree have anything to add please do so in the comments below…