Tag Archives: low-acid foods

Get Ready Now for the Summer Harvest

seeds_ela

If you are thinking about joining the trend in our communities to preserve food this summer, start planning and preparing now! Start by checking your equipment and supplies. Proper equipment in good condition is required for safe, high quality home canned food, for example.

If you’ve not yet purchased your needed equipment, there are two types of canners to consider: boiling water canners and pressure canners. A boiling water canner is used for canning acid or acidified foods like most fruits, most pickles, jams and jellies. Boiling water canners cost about $30-$100, or can be assembled yourself with a large stock pot, secure lid, and rack to keep jars off the bottom of the pot.

A pressure canner is essential for canning low acid foods such as vegetables, meats, fish, and poultry. Temperatures inside pressure canners reach higher than boiling water canners (for example, 240°F and above as compared to about 212°F). This is necessary to follow the tested processes available to be sure and kill the toxin–producing spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.  If not killed, these spores can grow out and produce a deadly toxin (poison) in room-temperature stored jars of the low-acid foods mentioned.

You have two choices for type pressure canner: a dial gauge canner or a weighted gauge canner. Most steps in managing the pressure canning process are the same, but the two styles have different types of gauges to indicate the pressure inside the canner. Expect to spend $100-$150 or more on a pressure canner.

If you use a dial gauge canner, then it’s important to have the gauge tested for accuracy before each canner season or if you drop or damage your gauge. It isn’t as easy as it used to be to get gauges tested. Try a local hardware store or your local Cooperative Extension agent, even though not all still provide this service. For either type of canner, check that the rubber gasket is flexible and soft, and if it is brittle, sticky, or cracked then replace it with a new gasket. Also check that any openings, like vent ports, are completely clean and open.

You’ll also need jars, lids, and ring bands for canning. When getting started, new jars are a worthwhile investment (versus purchasing used jars from a yard sale or flea market) because very old jars may break under pressure and heat. Mason-type jars of standard sizes (e.g., half-pint, pint, and quart) for the tested processes available from science-based sources such as USDA and your land-grant university are recommended. Make sure those jars are manufactured and sold for canning purposes; not all glass and Mason-style jars are tempered to prevent breakage with the extreme heat and temperature swings during canning. When you actually get to canning your harvest, be sure to follow manufacturers’ advice for preparing your jars and lids. In addition to standard cooking utensils like cutting boards and bowls, a jar funnel, jar lifter, lid wand, headspace tool, and bubble-freer are items that you will want to have handy for canning.

If you are freezing your harvest, be sure to use packaging such as plastic bags or rigid containers that are intended for freezer storage of foods.  Not all plastics are the same, and you want materials that will hold up to freezer temperatures as well as protect your goodies from damaging air and mixtures of odors.

Growing your own? You may be lucky enough to have previously started keeping garden records so you remember the name of that great tomato or pepper variety you have liked this past year. If not, think about planning to keep records this year. A garden journal might include variety, seed source, date planted, date harvested, notes on how it grew and resisted disease, and your personal evaluation of the crop.

A final must is reliable, up-to-date canning and other food preservation instructsetp5ions. Specific kitchen equipment or ingredients could be needed to follow directions as they are written for food preservation. And in the case of canning especially, very significant food safety risks by following unsound recommendations. Reliable, up-to-date canning instructions are available at the NCHFP website, the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, So Easy to Preserve, or the county or local area Extension office in your state.

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This entry contains information from Keep A Garden Record Book—Thomas Jefferson Did by Wayne McLaurin.

How do you like your eggs? Scrambled, Fried…or Pickled!

Whether your eggs come from your backyard chickens, the grocery store, or the Easter bunny, you might find yourself looking for different ways to prepare and preserve your abundance of springtime eggs.

There are no tested, reliable home canning recommendations for keeping pickled eggs at room temperature that we are able to recommend. Eggs are a low-acid food, and it is possible for botulism to grow in areas of a boiled egg that have not been sufficiently saturated by vinegar. The density, thickness, and very low acidity of eggs (pH ranges between 6.4 and 9.0) all present challenges for adequate penetration of vinegar and sufficient acidification throughout all areas of each egg. To read more about a case of home-pickled eggs implicated as a cause of botulism in Illinois in 1997, click here.

Instead of going through the steps of a canning process, simply make delicious pickled eggs safely at home by following recipes and instructions designed for refrigerator storage. Be sure to wash all utensils and surface areas (including hands) very well and sanitize jars for 10 minutes in boiling water before filling with boiled eggs if you expect to keep them for more than several days. Keep pickled eggs refrigerated, and limit their amount of time out of the fridge to 2 hours or less. Give them about 2 weeks to season in the brine before tasting. Unless otherwise indicated, you’ll want to consume refrigerated pickled eggs within 2 to 3 months for best quality. You can find more pickling tips and recipes on the NCHFP website.

refrigeratorHere is a basic recipe, copied directly from the pages of So Easy to Preserve:

Refrigerated Pickled Eggs

16 fresh eggs

2 TBSP whole allspice

2 TBSP whole peppercorns

2 TBSP ground ginger

4 cups white vinegar (5%)

2 TBSP sugar

Cook eggs in simmering water for 15 minutes. Place eggs in cold water, remove shells, and pack into sterilized jars. In a pot combine vinegar, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Pour hot liquid over hard-boiled eggs. Seal. Store in refrigerator. Use these pickled eggs within a month. This recipe is not intended for long term storage at room temperature.

Recipe from: Andress, E.L., Harrison, J.A., eds. (2006). So Easy to Preserve, 5th ed. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. ©University of Georgia.

Botulism: Think Outside the Jar

Since it’s that time of year that foods may be prepared well ahead of time, then packaged and transported to be shared with family, friends, and co-workers, it seems timely to spread awareness about less-known situations that have the potential to lead to botulism: Did you know that it is possible for botulism to come from non-canned food items? As mentioned in a previous posting called “Botulism: Surprises”, botulism has been linked to other foods, including unrefrigerated salsa, baked potatoes in aluminum foil, garlic in oil, fermented fish, and honey. Following are a few true tales to provide important details and inspire caution…

In 1994, in Texas, 30 people were affected by an outbreak of botulism from restaurant dips made with baked potatoes wrapped in foil and left at room temperature (apparently for several days) prior to being used the dips. In this case, the spores of Clostridium botulinum (which are readily found in soil) survived the heating process (which is to be expected), remained moist, and were then so tightly wrapped in aluminum foil that oxygen was kept out of the packaging, creating an anaerobic environment in which the botulism toxin could form. Oil covering a food, as with garlic in oil, also creates an anaerobic environment.

real potatoes

Not even processing your homemade salsas but putting them in tightly sealed jars (again, an anaerobic environment) left at room temperature is a big risk. Botulism could result if the salsa is too low in acid, and other problems besides botulism could occur even in more acid salsas. Tomatoes (and figs and Asian pears) are borderline pH foods, so we see recommendations to add some acid to jars even before treating them as boiling water canned foods. Fermented fish and fermented vegetables that do not finish fermenting to a truly acidic pH are other examples of foods that might not be acidic enough to prevent the botulism-causing toxin from forming.

Another situation that has caused botulism is pickled eggs left at room temperature. In 1997, in Illinois, a 68-year-old man developed symptoms of botulism – double vision, inability to speak, difficulty breathing – that was traced back to homemade pickled eggs. Testing confirmed the presence of type B botulism toxin. To prevent the toxin from forming, pickled eggs should be stored in the refrigerator and only be at room temperature for serving time; limit their time in the temperature danger zone (40 degrees F to 140 degrees F) to no more than 2 hours. Pickled egg recipes and storage guidelines can be found on the NCHFP website.

Early in 2011, two people got botulism from eating commercially made potato soup intended for refrigerator storage but kept in their homes at room temperature.  One case was in Georgia and one in Ohio.  Both people bought the soups from a refrigerator case, left them out of the refrigerator at home for a long time and then tasted them.  Bad decision!  Each individual spent a long time in the hospital and then were transferred to rehab facilities with respiratory issues. Unfortunately we do not know the ultimate outcome today.

It may now seem like botulism can come from anywhere, but that’s not true; Clostridium botulinum bacteria require specific conditions to be able to grow and produce the botulism-causing toxin. Understanding what’s involved in the formation of the toxin will help you know how to prevent it:

In order to grow and produce the botulism-causing toxin, C. botulinum bacteria must be kept in a very low-oxygen (anaerobic) environment with a pH above 4.6 (low acid foods) and a relatively high moisture content.  If these conditions are met, any temperatures in a wide range around anyone’s “room temperature” and definitely above 40 degrees F will allow the bacteria to multiply and produce toxin.  (Sometimes the temperature even can be a little cooler than that for some types of C. botulinum and they will still multiply.)

Pressure Canner

Awareness and action is the key to prevention. To avoid botulism, avoid the risk of containing C. botulinum in a low acid, moist, anaerobic environment and if you do so (you canners out there know who you are), then be sure to process your low-acid food products in a canner equivalent to at least 240 degrees F (achieved when your pressure canner reaches the recommend amount of pressure, after venting, for your altitude) for the recommended amount of time.

Click here to view the full article of ‘Foodborne Botulism From Eating Home-Pickled Eggs —Illinois, 1997‘ from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here is the full publication ‘A Large Outbreak of Botulism: The Hazardous Baked Potato‘.  And here is the short story of botulism from potato soups in 2011.  

Your Favorite Salsa Recipe…Is it Safe to Can?

Raw ingredients for salsa

Maybe you inherited a delicious salsa recipe from your father and you’d like to ship it out the entire family, or maybe you got creative in the kitchen with your kids and would love to store jars of their salsa for a surefire snack throughout the school year. But then you wonder: is that unique blend of ingredients safe to can at home? Here are a few reasons why that’s an important question to ask, and a few resources to help answer it.

Cutting tomatoesChopping jalapenos

  • Salsas are a mix of acid and low acid ingredients. Overall pH is what determines if a product is safe to be processed in a boiling water canner. If a salsa is not adequately acidified to a pH of 4.6 or below, then processing in a boiling water canner will not provide enough heat to prevent toxin-production by botulism-causing bacteria. Sufficient, carefully calculated amounts of vinegar or another acid are necessary ingredients for acidification.
  • Without detailed knowledge of the ingredients, proportions, and procedure used for a salsa recipe, there is no way to tell is the product is safe for boiling water canning. Unfortunately, we at the National Center are not able to fund and staff product testing for individual recipes. Here is a link to learn more about the science behind determining the Heat-Processing of Home-Canned Foods.
  • If you are determined to can your own salsa, please call your local Cooperative Extension office and ask if they have contact information for private testing companies. This link will help you Find Your County Office.
  • Fortunately, USDA and Cooperative Extension have a variety of tested recipes and processes for canning salsa at home. Ten different and diverse salsa recipes as well as background information and step-by-step boiling water canning directions can be found in the University of Georgia publication Sensational Salsas. If you want to view the recipes by themselves, follow this link to the NCHFP webpage “How Do I?…Can Salsa”. From there you’ll see that each salsa recipe is also available in Spanish.
  • Some equipment and home preserving ingredient manufacturers also offer more recipes to try, but first do some research to find out if they are indeed reliable companies with tested recipes.

Mango Salsa Raw Mix