Food for Thought: But Grandma always …

By Nancy Schuster, Frontier District Extension Agent

Recently a friend asked me what brand of canner I would recommend. K-State Research & Extension agents will not recommend one brand of product over another brand. Instead we suggest features of different products to consider and encourage our clients to make their own decisions about the features we talk about.

foodforthoughtAt the end of our conversation, I reminded my friend that low acid foods are now using 11 pounds of pressure at our local altitude for processing. I also shared that we recommend adding acid to tomatoes when canning them.

And then, my friend did it! She said the worst statement you can ever make to a family and consumer sciences agent. She said to me, “You probably won’t like the way I can tomatoes. I can them like my mother-in-law did some 40 plus years ago. We put hot tomatoes in the jars and sealed them up!”

At this point in the conversation I was hyperventilating and using a small paper bag to breathe in!

I could have yelled or scolded her (as my friend) about using unsafe, outdated home canning techniques and the potential of serious food borne illnesses. Instead I said to her, if you choose to use an unsafe method, please just make sure your two new grandbabies don’t eat any of your home canned tomatoes – ever!

I am very serious about using proper home canning techniques. One reason I am serious can be recognized from a recent foodborne illness outbreak in Ohio. Improperly home canned potatoes were used to make a potato salad that was served at a church potluck. Results from the potluck were the death of one woman, 21 individuals with botulism, and another 10 people exhibiting symptoms consistent with botulism. A week after the potluck, 12 individuals were still in the hospital. I wondered what the person who canned the potatoes is feeling like now with a death and 31 individuals receiving botulism anti-toxin because of their mistake.

Home canned low acid foods should never be served at a potluck or any dinner that serves the general public. Farmers markets have regulations on which home canned foods can be sold safely – namely jams and jellies.

Health officials once again reminded the public that food borne illness can be prevented by following proper canning techniques and using the right equipment for the food being canned.

A pressure canner must be used when canning vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood. If you do not own a pressure canner or are afraid to use one, the only option available to you is to freeze those foods. Pressure canning kills the germ that causes botulism when foods are processed at the correct time and pressure.

A temperature of 240-250 degrees F must be reached to kill a botulism spore, that’s why pressure canners are used. A boiling water bath canner never gets hotter than 212 degrees F.

And lastly, always use current up-to-date, scientifically tested guidelines. Do not use outdated publications or cookbooks, even if they were handed down from trusted family cooks. At present time, any books printed before 2000 should be pitched.

The Center for Disease Control says that foodborne botulism, which comes from a nerve toxin produced by Clostridium-botulinum bacteria, is relatively rare in the United States. When botulism outbreaks occur, they are usually linked to home-canned foods.

If you love your family members, you will honor them by using the latest, scientifically tested guidelines. After all, it’s their health.


schustersmNancy Schuster is a Frontier Extension District family and consumer science agent whose responsibilities include providing information about food safety, nutrition, food science and food preparation. She is based in the Garnett office of the Frontier Extension District and can be reached at 785-448-6826 or email [email protected].


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