The dangers of home canning
OK. I know the titles sound all doom and gloom, but this is serious stuff. As much as I love canning, and want to encourage you try it, I also want you to be safe. Some things in life are worth taking a risk on, like the lotto, or a new friend, or possibly that dicey bungee jumping experience. Canning is not one of them.
the importance of Recipes
So, your great grandmother was all about that canning life, and you just inherited her time tested recipes. Should you use them? Unfortunately, no. The USDA tests recipes to verify their safety, and they have yet to come across Granny Lu's extra special secret sauce. In all seriousness though, the USDA cannot condone using recipes that have been passed down. For one, they've found some really sketchy ones out there, using things like aspirin, yikes. But more importantly, they've found that things, like tomatoes, may not have the same acidity, or pH, they used to. Maybe because we are growing different varieties, or maybe just the natural changes in soil composition over time. So while Granny Lu could safely can her secret sauce without pressure, you can-not.
Now why is pH, or acidity important? Well, that leads us to the next point:
Botulism can kill
Botulism is caused by a nerve toxin from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, that when ingested can affect your nerves, paralyze you and even cause death. It is a naturally occurring, difficult to kill, bacteria that resides in soil, on fruits and vegetables and sometimes in contaminated water. It grows best in low-oxygen, low acid (pH) and low sugar or salt environments, all of which are possible with home canning. Some foods, mostly vegetables, and meats, don't have enough acid to keep the bacterial spores from growing and creating the toxin, so they need to be processed at a higher temperature. When your recipe doesn't have enough acid, you MUST use a pressure caner.
How do I know if my recipe has enough acidity? You can't unless you're using a tested recipe, or happen to have a state of the art lab in your home. You don't want to play chicken with this deadly illness. I really can't overstate this: for the love of your family, USE A TESTED RECIPE!
Mold, is it worth it?
Now that you've found a great, USDA tested recipe, spent your precious time and effort carefully canning and preserving it, you go to open your jar when you spot mold growing on the inside! Can I just scrape the mold off and use the rest? Is all my hard work gone down the drain?
Unfortunately, it is. I can't recommend the scrape and go technique. Here's why: Mold spores penetrate deeper than we can see. Simply scraping the moldy section out doesn't truly remove it. And if you've ever looked into the dangers of mold itself, all the health risks it poses, you would agree. Mold can take a while to manifest itself within your body, but once it does it can ravage your whole system. It's best to avoid anything growing mold.
How did I get mold in the first place? Well, the most common problem is improper seals. Followed by improper storage. If a jar gets too hot, or too cold, or temperatures swing from hot to cold often, the food inside spoils more quickly. That's why you see a lot of seasoned canners store their bounty in a root cellar. One final reason you may have mold? You used some ingredients that may have been past their prime, already growing unseen mold. Don't despair. It happens to the best of us.
While not typically as deadly as botulism, improper seals can also wreak havoc on your home canning experience. What is an improper seal? Well, as the title suggests, its when a seal does not form properly. This happens for a number of reasons.
If your jars don't seal, for whatever reason, the food will spoil. You'll likely end up with mold or food poisoning. Make sure to follow both the jar manufacturer and recipe instructions, which may include refrigerating any improperly sealed jars and/or using within a certain time period.
Pressure canning warning
Now, with all that being said, pressure canning seems like the safe option, right? Yes. And also no. Pressure canning is a fantastic option for those types of things that require extreme heat. But, on the flip side, there are dangers with the process that you need to be aware of.
Pressure canning is not a "set and forget" method. You are building pressure in a large pan of boiling water. If you're not careful it could literally explode. I've seen horror pictures of exploded pressure cookers, including the ever popular Instant Pot. They are not something to take lightly. If you use one, please make sure to follow the directions carefully, and keep a close eye on it. Pressure can rise quickly, and if your'e not there to release it safely, well, KA~BAMB!!
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Kita , Caveman, Goomba, Gummy Bear and Peanut are native New Englanders, who are working to live more self sufficient and sustainable lifestyle.