If the sluggish economy has been good for anything, it has taught many Americans to move away from mass consumerism and learn how to do more with less. The recession brought a resurgence in trends such as upcycling, the DIY revolution, the locavore movement, and embracing those nearly lost home economics skills that you swore you would never use.
Tie it all together and you have a renewed interest in growing and canning your own fruits vegetables. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five U.S. households can their own food, and 65% of those households can vegetables.
If you are among the urban gardeners and budding farmers who have experienced any level of success on your small-scale agricultural ventures, you may be saying, “I can’t possibly eat another tomato.” The bounty of summer fruits and vegetables sounds mouth-watering when you are planting, but by summer’s end, you are desperate to unload your harvest. Why not preserve it and extend your grocery savings into the colder months?
Sure, you can call your great aunt Louise to learn how to get started on canning peaches or tomatoes, but the CDC warns if canning is done improperly, you can put your health in danger. While botulism is a hot commodity for the youth and beauty industry, the type of botulism borne from poor canning techniques could have much less desirable results. According to the CDC, home-canned vegetables caused at least 116 outbreaks of foodborne botulism between 1996 and 2008. Of the 48 outbreaks, 38%, were from home-canned vegetables.
Botulism is a rare, but possibly deadly disease caused by bacteria found in soil that can grow toxic when sealed in a jar of food. Those affected can suffer nerve damage, be paralyzed, or even die. Symptoms of botulism in adults include double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth and muscle weakness. In infants, symptoms include lethargy, weakness, poor feeding, constipation, poor head control, poor gag and sucking reflex.
To protect yourself:
- Use proper canning techniques and equipment explained in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.
- Don’t use outdated publications, cookbooks, or instructions from family and friends.
- Use a pressure canner or cooker. Do not use boiling water canners because they will not protect against botulism poisoning.
- Never taste the product to determine if it is safe. Do not taste or eat foods from containers that are leaking, have bulges or are swollen, or look damaged, cracked, or abnormal.
- Do not taste or eat foods that are discolored, moldy, or smell bad. Do not use products that spurt liquid or foam when the container is opened.
- Any food that may be contaminated with the germs that cause botulism should be thrown away.
Follow Elise Rambaud Marrion on Twitter @emarrion_cmn.