Category Archives: Food Safety

Canning Dry Beans: It Matters How They Go in the Jar

As a low-acid food, all beans require the use of a pressure canner for preservation by home canning, unless they are sufficiently pickled (acidified) to bring them out of the low-acid food category. But pressure canning isn’t a magic bullet if you don’t know the safe way to prepare food and carry out the right process for each food type and style. If you are new to pressure canning or could use a refresher of the basic how-to, then please read Using Pressure Canners before beginning. If this is your first time canning, then also read Principles of Home Canning from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. 

The USDA recommended processes in the Complete Guide to Home Canning for home canning dried beans require a hydration step prior to filling jars:   https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/beans_peas_shelled.html

The options are to (1) place sorted (for stones or other contaminants) dried beans or peas in a large pot and cover with water. Soak the beans 12 to 18 hours in a cool place. Then drain off the soaking water and do not use it in canning the beans. The other option is, to more quickly hydrate the beans (2) cover the sorted and washed beans with boiling water in a saucepan. Boil them 2 minutes, remove them from the heat, soak them 1 hour and then drain. That cooking water is also not used in canning the beans.

The procedure then calls for covering drained beans hydrated by either method with fresh water and boil 30 minutes. The USDA canning process recommendation is for a hot pack prepared this way only: hot beans boiled 30 minutes then filled quickly into jars while still hot. (But of course being careful not to burn yourself, as with all canning steps.) Optional salt can be added to the beans in the jars if desired (½ teaspoon of salt per pint or 1 teaspoon per quart jar). The jars with cooked beans (and salt if added) then get filled with the hot cooking water, leaving 1-inch headspace. As with all jars packed this way, water should cover the food pieces for expected heat distribution during processing and best quality in storage of the canned beans.  See the link above for full instructions and the processing times and temperatures (pressures) for pints vs quarts, and for various altitudes.

According to inquiries I get, and what I read elsewhere on the Internet, it is popular practice to put dry beans in the jars, cover them with water and put them into the pressure canner that way. Unfortunately, I have never found or been shown research for home canning that has determined what the process time should be for dry beans filled into jars in this manner.  A safe process time is partially dependent on jar size and type of food, yes, but it is also partially dependent on the texture of the food, the temperature of the food and liquid, and the weight of the food filled into jars.  Dry beans sitting in water at the start of the process time will not heat up at the same rate as beans prepared as described in the research-based method described above and in the USDA materials. The final sterilization of the jar contents achieved by the end of the process will not be the same as when the process is applied to jars filled as described in the recommended methods.  People canning their dry beans by other methods, and especially by starting with dry beans in the jars, are taking a big risk on food spoilage and possibly botulism food poisoning.  Those doing this and getting away with it have just been lucky – so far.

I guess part of my message is do not expect me to endorse or support this method of filling jars for home canning of dry beans.  If you choose to do it, you are taking a chance by your own decision.

There are also different processes for different types of beans and dry bean recipes for home canning. For canning dry beans, there are research-based processes in the USDA database for Baked Beans, prepared as described in the process directions, and Dry Beans with Tomato or Molasses Sauce versions provided.

If you have fresh beans of the Lima variety, then follow these directions for Fresh, Shelled, Lima Beans. Follow these similar procedures, but slightly different directions for Snap and Italian Green and Wax Beans. As you’re deciding whether to prepare a hot pack or raw pack, remember that hot packs are often considered to produce the highest quality final product, and you can often fit more beans into one jar, even though raw packs do cut down on the prep time.

The home canning processes which we can recommend for these various bean products can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at this menu: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can4_vegetable.html .

Please be safe in your home canning choices. The research-based processes available may seem very limiting and traditional but there has been little public funding for researching new recommendations in a long time and there are few labs set up and staffed to do home canning research. You can flavor or combine your home canned vegetables with other ingredients after opening them, at the time of serving, rather than risk botulism or losing money from spoiled food from making up a process for your own recipes. This solution doesn’t address choosing an easier way to fill jars than has been tested such as with dry beans, but is something to consider for other food choices.

Even though this has been about dry beans, I hope you all are looking forward to another season of local, fresh vegetables coming in like I am!

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Play it Safe with Easter Eggs!

If Easter egg decorating is on your list of activities this spring, play it safe when handling fresh and hard cooked eggs! To avoid the possibility of foodborne illness, fresh eggs must be handled and stored correctly. Even eggs with clean, shells with no cracks may occasionally contain bacteria called Salmonella that can cause an intestinal infection. And, once eggs have been cooked, food safety rules apply for proper handling, serving and storing.

 Food safety tips if you plan to eat the dyed eggs later:

  • Start by washing hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after food handling. Wash hands during each step of handling eggs before dyeing them.
  • Hard-cook, dye, and refrigerate the eggs within two hours.
  • Use only food safe natural or commercial dyes.
  • Non-refrigerated Easter eggs that are used as decorations should not be eaten.
  • Hunt eggs for 2 hours or less, 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is 90°F or higher.
  • Hunt only eggs that have been refrigerated with non-cracked shells before hiding.
  • Hide eggs in areas that are clean, protected from dirt, pets and other highly possibly sources of large numbers of bacteria. Make sure the area has not been treated with various lawn and/or insect control chemicals.
  • Wash “found” eggs and refrigerate right away at 40°F or below.
  • Eggs must be eaten within seven days of cooking.

Food safety tips for blown out egg shells used in decorating:

  • Use only eggs that have been kept refrigerated and are not cracked.
  • Before blowing out eggs, wash the eggs in hot water. Then rinse them in a solution of 1 teaspoon liquid chlorine bleach per half cup of water.
  • Be careful not to get any of the raw egg into your mouth or on your lips.
  • The contents blown out of the eggs could be used, but they must be refrigerated right after being blown out and used within 2-4 days.
  • These contents should be used only in foods that are cooked thoroughly before eating, such as breads and cakes.

Freezing eggs:

The contents of raw whole eggs may be frozen for later use. To freeze raw whole eggs:

Thoroughly mix yolks and whites. Do not whip in air. To prevent graininess in the yolks, add 1½ tablespoons sugar, 1½ tablespoons corn syrup OR ½ teaspoon salt per cup whole eggs, depending on intended use. Strain through a sieve, or colander to improve uniformity. Package, allowing ½ inch headspace. Seal and freeze. Another method of freezing whole egg mixture is to use ice trays. Measure 3 tablespoons of egg mixture into each compartment of an ice try. Freeze until solid. Remove frozen cubes, and package in moisture-vapor resistant containers. Seal and freeze. Three tablespoons of the egg mixture (one cube) equals one whole egg

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References: The Incredible Egg website, American Egg Board. Easter & Egg Safety, at https://www.incredibleegg.org/easter/easter-egg-safety/

The Partnership for Food Safety Education. Egg-stra Care for Spring Celebrations, at http://www.fightbac.org/egg-stra-care-for-spring-celebrations/

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Freezing Animal Products. Eggs. In So Easy to Preserve, 6th Edition, 2014, p. 298.

 

 

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/).

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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

Freezing Soups and Stews A Good Wintertime Activity

It is still chilly and winter in most locations. Even here in Georgia we are still swinging between chilly and warm. Today would have been my mother’s birthday and that reminds me of how she loved to use her freezer for convenience in meal preparation.

There is nothing like a hot bowl of homemade soup or chili on a chilly winter’s day. But not everyone has time or ingredients to make it when the mood strikes or it’s time to eat. Just imagine having a freezer full of delicious, homemade meals ready to be heated and served when you get home from work. Freezing prepared foods in advance allows you the satisfaction of homemade meals with the convenience of store-bought ones. A lot of people have gone the route of instant cookers and fast preparation, but for some, making ahead and just reheating is even a quicker answer.  (Believe me, I also have my favorite stovetop soups that cook up quickly, even with lots of flavor, but that does require I have the ingredients on hand when the mood strikes.)

There are just a few things to keep in mind when freezing prepared foods. Freezing will not improve the texture, flavor, or quality of most food. It simply acts to preserve the quality of the food. Therefore, you should only freeze high quality ingredients. Some ingredients may not hold up well in the freezer, especially if you don’t plan to use it quickly this season only. You can look up some cautions and effects of freezing on spices ahead of time (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/dont_freeze_foods.html).  Other tips for freezing prepared foods can be found from the University of Georgia also (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/FreezingPreparedFoods.pdf).

After cooking the food you plan to freeze, be sure it is cooled quickly to maintain the safety of the food. You can quick-cool your hot soups or stews by stirring in a bowl or pan that is set down into an ice bath.  Never leave perishable food at room temperature more than two hours; if you do not quick-cool it until cold enough to put in the freezer, put the food in the refrigerator to finish cooling.

Be sure to put your soup in moisture-vapor resistant packaging to prevent freezer burn.  Now what does that mean?  We see it all the time. You want packaging that doesn’t allow for moisture from the food to be drawn out into dry air through it.  And you want packaging materials that keep odors inside the pack. Not all plastics and foils are the same in these characteristics, for example. For soups and stews, rigid containers like freezer quality plastic boxes or jars are a good choice; freezer-weight plastic bags can be used, just a little more awkward to fill and seal with runny food.

To make the most of the convenience factor, package your soup or stew in amounts that you will be able to eat at one time.  Be sure to clearly label each package with the name of the food, and date you put it in the freezer. If you have a variety of foods that will look alike and have short names on that label, consider including some ingredients on that label.  Be sure all sealing areas are clean and dry and to leave recommended headspace for expansion inside the package (https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/headspace.html). Once packaged and sealed, and place in the coldest part of the freezer.

Quick, it’s time to eat! You can put your soup or stew in a pan for stovetop or bowl for microwave and cook right from the frozen stage. If you heat in your freezer container, make sure it is intended to be used for the hot temperatures the cooked food will reach. Be sure to stir to prevent burning on the stovetop and to evenly distribute heat with either method of cooking. Thawing in the refrigerator is safe, but takes some planning ahead. You can also thaw in the microwave even if you finish cooking on a stovetop or oven.  And reheat your food to at least 165°F everywhere quickly, within 2 hours of starting.  (If I have a broth-based soup that can be brought to a visible boil, I always do that myself to ensure adequate reheating.) If you want to quick-thaw under cold running water, be sure the package is leak-proof and keep running water moving slowly over the package or place it in a clean pan or bowl and submerge under cold tap water that is changed every 30 minutes. Be sure to reheat as above as soon as the food is thawed enough.  To ensure the safety of your food, do not allow these potentially hazardous foods to stay in the temperature danger zone (40°F-140°F) for more than 2 hours at any time.

Planning ahead and freezing that favorite soup, stew or chili is a great way to keep homemade food on your dinner table without all of the stress and hassle of last minute cooking from scratch.

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