How Does Improperly Canned Food Lead to Food Poisoning?

People began canning centuries ago, because they needed to preserve foods to get  them through the long, cold winter. Later, canning was seen as a way for people to enjoy their favorite fruits and vegetables year-round, without the inflationary effects on the price of groceries.

To this day, many people turn to canning  for many of the same reasons.  They also serve as a way to prepare for those times when bad weather or natural disasters prevent them from leaving their homes or going to the store, especially over potentially long periods of time.

Which forms of canning are safe?

Only two forms of canning are generally considered safe. One method, the water bath canning method, uses boiling water to seal containers. This is the preferred method for canning such things as fruits or pickles, but it is not safe for  use with low acid foods, including green vegetables and red meat. The other acceptably safe method is pressure canning, which can very difficult to master. If any canning is done improperly, it can result in the spread of food borne illness within and outside of a family.

Low acid foods should always be pressure canned. In a low acid environment, some bacteria, like C. botulinum toxin, which is the major cause of botulism infection, thrive, and they do not die at boiling temperature (212°F).  Pressure canning is the only way possible to reach a high enough temperature to kill some of the bacteria that reside in  low acid foods.

Never attempt to can in a microwave, dishwasher, or even an oven, because the heat varies within them. Not only could the uneven heat break the jars; failure to reach a high enough temperature in any part of the canning process can lead to under-processed and potentially contaminated foods.

In many cases, some food is contaminated with bacteria even before it’s sealed in a jar. Therefore, assuming that a jar that is sealed is a safe jar  is a bad one. One common misconception about canning is that, if the jar is sealed, the food inside a safe and was processed correctly. This is not the case. In order to kill off harmful bacteria, low acid foods  must reach a temperature of at least 240°-250°F, which can only be reached via pressure canner.

Quite often, people may dismiss these precautions because no one has gotten sick over the many years they have used  a particular method to can their food. However, this is faulty thinking, much like thinking that seat-belts are unnecessary because you’ve never been in an accident and never gotten hurt to date. What that actually means everyone has been lucky so far.

Can I use a pressure cooker?

A pressure cooker is not the same as a pressure canner, so don’t think you can use a pressure cooker to can foods. Basically, a pressure cooker is a  cooking pot that has been equipped with a rubber seal  that locks in steam to cook foods rapidly. Pressure cookers can’t be relied on to maintain a steady, correct temperature high enough to preserve foods safely. Back in the 1980s US Department of Agriculture declared pressure cookers unsafe for canning purposes.

After the canning process is complete, you should check  the seals on your jars within 24 hours. If the jars did not seal properly, make sure you refrigerate them and use the canned food quickly or throw it away. Botulism is a rare but extremely serious illness that can lead to serious nerve damage, paralysis and even death,  even if you only take a small bite of botulism tainted food. Between 1996 and 2008, 116 outbreaks of foodborne botulism were reported  to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with 48 of those outbreaks caused by improperly prepared  home-canned foods.  The other 68  outbreaks were caused by canned food  was not prepared in  the home.

The food poisoning lawyer at Hill Law Firm has the knowledge and experience needed to deal with every food borne illness imaginable, regardless of source. Even if you can your own food, it is possible that the food you canned was contaminated before you started.

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