Botulism, A canning risk easily avoided.

with Sharon Peterson

Botulism: A severe, sometimes fatal food poisoning caused by ingestion of food containing botulin and characterized by nausea, vomiting, disturbed vision, muscular weakness, and fatigue. Symptoms also include difficulty in swallowing, speech and breathing.

Botulism is food poisoning caused by improper processing and handling. Thankfully, it’s very easy to avoid it altogether with some common sense and best practices. explain here.

Botulism doesn’t sound like anything I want to mess around with!  

So why am I not afraid?  

Because it is a canning risk that is actually easy to avoid.  

Did you know? 

Did you know that Clostridium Botulinum spores are on most fresh food surfaces?  It is in the dirt, it is just about everywhere.    

So... if it is everywhere, why are we not all getting sick??  

The spores are harmless on fresh foods. However, when certain conditions exist, these spores will germinate, multiply, begin dying, and then produce a deadly toxin.

It is this toxin that causes serious food poisoning known as botulism. 

The conditions where the spores become dangerous are:

  • absence of oxygen,
  • low acidity levels, and
  • temperatures between 40 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 to 49 degrees Celsius)—

Sounds just like the conditions in canned foods!  Both home canned or commercially canned.

So how do we get rid of the risk of botulism?  Easy... with Heat.

Botulism spores at temperatures above 240 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is only achievable in a pressure canner.   

As a home canner, If you follow the recommended guidelines, and process your foods with the correct canning methods you should have no problems.


  • Meats and vegetables you must use a pressure canner for the safest methods.  
  • Jam, Jellies, Fruit, and Pickles can be processed safely with a waterbath canner. 
  • Tomatoes are a special case.... read more here... 

Added Precaution

As an added precaution it is sometimes suggested that you boil low acid foods for 10 minutes before serving. This includes all vegetables and meats.  

There is apparently some debate even among extension services about whether this is a necessary step.  To read more about this click here.... 

If you choose to take this extra step here are some directions.  It is really very easy.  

Boil for 10 minutes, plus one minute per 1,000 feet above sea level.  Home canned spinach and corn should be boiled for 20 minutes before eating.

This is especially important at higher altitudes and in the Western United States. According to my local extension service, soil in the area from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean contains higher rates of Type A Chlostridium Botulinum.  

From a Reader...

New Canner w/ Botulism Fears!
by: Paige


I finally attempted to can my meat sauce following all directions and using a pressure canner. They sealed beautifully, I polished the jars and set them in my pantry with pride.

Now, I just look at them. As a Biology major I just wonder if they contain delicious sauce or eminent death from Botulism!

I am scared to consume them!

Is there any way to test food product for Botulism to ensure your methods are solid?

I am sure I sound crazy but I really want to learn how to do this with confidence...I am moving to a farm in less than a year. I just don't have and family/friends with experience!

Thanks so much!

Sharon's Answer:

Paige, I don't know of a method to test for botulism in your jars. However, I'm so glad to encourage you that as long as you are sure you followed the tested methods your meat should be fine. Enjoy it.

It is nice to encourage someone who is cautious!

More Canning Safety Articles

Canning Methods - which one to choose?
Step by step: Pressure Canning
Step by Step: Water Bath Canning
Tomatoes Safety
Unsafe Methods
Spoiled Food
Altitude Adjustments
Sterilizing Canning Jars
Canning Terms

Online Canning Classes

Learn Home Canning

I've been teaching home canning for a long time.  I'd love to share what I've learned with you.  

Simply Canning School is what you need to start filling jars.

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Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You are encouraged to verify all canning and food preservation advice on the USDA food preservation website. 

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