Learn Before Canning Vegetables

Another tragic story has been told about botulism poisoning resulting from improperly home-canned peas. Three women arrived at a New York hospital on morning last summer with acute nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, slurred speech, droopy eyelid, thick-feeling tongue, and shortness of breath. This was about 14 hours after they shared a homemade potato salad containing home-canned peas. (Of course, not the most common type of potato salad to many!) CDC released botulinum antitoxin that was administered to all patients about 12 hours after arrival at the hospital. All three patients survived, BUT, two developed respiratory failure requiring intubation and mechanical ventilation in the emergency room and the third was intubated that evening.  All three did require prolonged intensive care, with a range of 34-54 days, and rehabilitation.

Because a family freezer malfunctioned, one of the patients home-canned commercially frozen peas to “save them”. This was done 1-2 weeks before consumption. It turns out this person used directions for preserving a peach preserve in a boiling water canner, unaware that low-acid vegetables needed pressure canning to eliminate spores of C. botulinum. This is a good reminder that frozen vegetables may contain these spores as well as fresh ones. After processing, one of the jars did not seal so she refrigerated it. These are the peas consumed in the potato salad.

Yes, our USDA guidelines say that foods in jars not sealing after processing could be refrigerated and consumed within several days. HOWEVER, this is for jars correctly processed in the first place that did not pull a vacuum to seal the jar. Toxin was recovered from the jar and leftover food in the potato salad bowl. And that toxin matched that in stool specimens from two of the patients. Yes, it was those peas.

The closed jar of peas containing spores of C. botulinum held in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks did indeed produce toxin. These spores like a low-acid, moist, oxygen-free environment. I wonder what the refrigerator temperature was, also.

dial=gauge pressure cannerPlease use recommended, science-based processing methods for home canned foods, especially low-acid ones. And if processing errors occur, discard the food or reprocess according to recommended guidelines within 24 hours. And, this is a reminder that even foods made with commercially processed ingredients can lead to serious consequences including death, if canned incorrectly.

See www.homefoodpreservation.net, the 2015 USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html) and So Easy to Preserve, 6th ed. (https://setp.uga.edu/).


Reference:  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 68(1):251-252. March 15, 2019. Notes from the Field: Botulism Outbreak Associated with Home-Canned Peas — New York City, 2018.  https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6810a5.htm