Home canning tips to prevent botulism

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The same neurotoxin used in cosmetic enhancement procedures to produce plump lips can...

The same neurotoxin used in cosmetic enhancement procedures to produce plump lips can also cause a life-threatening condition known as botulism. This foodborne illness can cause paralysis or death, and is a particular risk for people who grow and can their own produce.

Botulism is indirectly caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. When the bacteria germinate from dormant spores, the compound botulinum toxin is produced. These spores are extremely tolerant of the heat and acid normally used to "cook" food, and they thrive in anaerobic (airless), high-moisture environments with temperatures ranging from 38 degrees Fahrenheit to 110 degrees Fahrenheit very similar to the environment of shelved canned goods.

Some foods are more prone to the risk of botulism. Improperly canned meat, seafood and some vegetable products are especially at risk of harboring the toxin. Use these tips to avoid or reduce the risk of botulism in canned foods.

Tips for canning

1. The two main types of equipment for heat processing home-canned food are traditional open-bath boiled water canners and pressure canners. An open-water bath canner can only reach the natural boiling point of water (212 degrees Fahrenheit) while pressure canners can reach superheated temperatures of more than 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Dangerous spores will be destroyed when exposed to this high temperature for the necessary time. (Note special instructions if you live at high altitudes above 1000 ft.)

2. Foods such as jams, jellies, pickles, applesauce, peaches, plums, nectarines, rhubarb, jalapenos (and other peppers), tomatoes, ketchup and spaghetti sauce (without meat) are naturally high in acidity, so they can be canned using the traditional (open bath) boiling method. Most vegetables and all meats should be canned using a pressure cooker designed for canning purposes.

3. In general, avoid canning foods that are not naturally acidic. Researchers at the University of Florida caution against canned foods such as asparagus, green beans, garlic in an oil base, corn, soups, ripe olives, tuna fish, sausage, luncheon meats, fermented meats, salad dressings and smoked fish. Potatoes and onions can also carry dormant spores.

4. Use a specialized steam pressure cooker to can foods that are alkaline or only mildly acidic.

5. Clean the food preparation area carefully and only use clean jars and new lids specifically designed for canning.

6. An alternative to canning some foods is pickling (adding vinegar or another acidic compound). Be careful with home pickled eggs, however, because eggs stored at room temperature have reportedly caused botulism.

If you experience severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing, double vision or facial weakness, contact your Atlanta physician or go to your local emergency room right away, depending on the severity of the symptoms.

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