Canning Safety Overkill?

I've been teaching home canning for a long time.  I'd love to share what I've learned with you.   Simply Canning School's online video based classes .

On Simply Canning I always emphasize canning safety, current methods and practices for home canning. 

Sometimes that gets me in a position to not agree with the "old" ways.  Sometimes people accuse me of overkill.   I want to emphasize, there is a lot of wisdom in SOME of the old ways... I’m not saying your grandmother or aunt or whomever was dumb.  I’m not accusing them of not caring for their family.   Absolutely not! 

Canning Safety Overkill is a concept that doesn’t make much sense. Food can be spoiled even without mold. Botulism is the #1 worry for improperly canned food. SimplyCanning.com goes into more detail.

Many old fashioned skills are fading away and that is so very sad. 

But some of the old ways can be improved upon.  Not discarded, but made better.  And sometimes we make assumptions about the “old ways”.  For instance we assume our grandmothers and great grandmothers did not have pressure canners.  But that is not necessarily so… I address that more below.  (hint, pressure canners have been around a very long time.)

I’m all for old fashioned skills. Our ancestors were a hardy self reliant people. But with food preservation you may want to be open to new knowledge. 

There are canning safety adjustments and methods available. You have to make your own decisions. 

 We all make our own decisions in our own kitchens.  Make the safe ones.  

Safe Canning and Food Preservation

First I want to mention.... don't be afraid!   That is the last thing I want.  I've been accused of scaring people off with all this discussion of canning safety.  That is not what I'm about.  I believe knowledge conquers fear and I also know that some have a true fear of canning.  It is simple and so safe if you just follow simple (mostly common sense) directions.  

My goal is to give beginning canners the confidence to get started.  It really is simple!

(If you are one who is truly afraid of your pressure canner... check out this free video series.)

What methods of canning are safe?

Pressure Canning is the only safe method for canning meats and vegetables. 

Learn more about pressure canning here...

Either a waterbath or a steam canner are safe for canning most fruit, jam and jelly.  

Learn more about waterbath canning here... 

Learn more about steam canning here... 

Pickled items (including condiments and salsa) when using a tested recipe are safe for a waterbath as well but ONLY when using a tested recipe.  The specifics of the food combination will determine the acidity of the product and the appropriateness of waterbath processing.  

Home Canning of Fruits and Vegetables... It can get testy!

Home canning of fruits and vegetables, jam jelly, pickled items and meats.  These are all things I’ve been doing a long time.  And the popularity is growing!  Facebook groups abound with advice from all sides.   I want to warn you.  Some of these groups are absolutely lovely and safe and some are just plain dangerous.  

Watch out if you are on the ‘wrong’ side of the 'canning safety' question…. either on the ultra safe to the  anything goes crowd!   Social media is a crazy crazy thing.  People will say things there that they would never say to your face.  Rudeness and self defensiveness can abound.  

Look for the facts, be cautious where you get canning advice (ie not everyone on youtube knows what they are talking about) and make your own informed decisions. 

And please just scroll on by.  Don't get drug into an online debate about canning safety.  

So what about canning safety before pressure canners were available?

How did they preserve food before Pressure Canners were available?   They are pretty new aren’t they?

I've seen comments like these very often.  Actually Pressure Canners have been around longer that you might think.  

According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

“In 1919 steam pressure canning was included and the study of this method versus boiling water bath processing was continued over a period of seven years. Meat, poultry, and fish were canned as well as vegetables and fruit.”  

These studies were regarding home canning safety so that means pressure canners were being tested for the home and were in existence by at least 1919.  

Here is another quote 

“Despite the fact that the heat resistance discovered in the early 1900s was substantiated and many factors influencing the thermal death point uncovered, it took many years for USDA to incorporate this knowledge into its home canning publications.”

So since the early 1900's we have known scientifically that heat resistance in botulinum spores was an issue.  Canning safety is not a new issue.  

If this truly interests you take a look at this document.  If you are scientifically minded and want to know the history of home canning you might find it fascinating. 

NCHFP -  https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/usda/review/earlyhis.htm#homecan

Botulism.... how prevalent is it anyway?

So botulism is the food poisoning that is what most people think of when they are fearful of canning.  And it is definitely something to be concerned about. I"ve got an article here that goes into more of what is botulism.  But how prevalent is it really?   

I’ll just leave another quote here…. 

“From 1996 to 2014, there were 210 outbreaks of foodborne botulism reported to the CDC. Of the 145 outbreaks that were caused by home-prepared foods, 43 outbreaks, or 30 percent were from home-canned vegetables.  These outbreaks often occurred because home canners did not follow canning instructions, did not use pressure canners, ignored signs of food spoilage, or didn’t know they could get botulism from improperly preserving vegetables.”

https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2020/01/colorado-county-reports-first-foodborne-botulism-death-in-more-than-decade/

Rare?  Yes, I think we can all agree it could be considered rare  But it does happen.  I don’t want it to be me or you.  If we have the ability to do better, we should. 

Here are some links to individual stories of people who have contracted botulism from home canned food.   And I do not leave this to cause fear!  This is for those who think I'm being just too paranoid.   I'm not paranoid, I'm informed and careful.  

Home Canned Potatoes - https://www.cnn.com/2015/04/28/health/potatoes-to-blame-for-botulism/index.html

Home Canned Carrots - https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2015/05/12/botulism-case-highlights-need-to-follow-canning-directions/

So, are we on canning safety overkill?  I don't think so. 

So, now that I may have scared the bejeebies out of you.  I want to bring you down to earth and how very easy it is to leave this problem in the dust. Canning Safety is not hard.

Pressure Canning Properly Stops Botulism.   

So there you go.  That is the answer to the fear. Use a pressure canner when appropriate and you are good to go.  Here is an article that goes more into when to know you need a pressure canner.  

How to know what canning method to use.  

Don't be afraid!   That is the last thing I want.  I've been accused of scaring people off from canning.  That is not what I'm about.  I believe knowledge conquers fear and I also know that some have a true fear of canning.  It is so simple and so safe if you just follow simple (mostly common sense) directions.  

My goal is to give beginning canners the confidence to get started.  It really is simple!


Reader questions about canning safety.

Here is an example of someone who is honestly looking for answers.  It may seem like we are on safety overkill. But really we are not! 

 Hi Sharon,

I am just wanting to get your opinion.  My brother and his wife have been canning for years.  They don't pressure cook or technically even water bath their vegetables. They simply pour boiling water or broth over their vegetables, tighten the lids, turn upside down and cover with a towel until cool.  That's it.  They have never had a problem with botulism. 

Also, after some research the reported cases of food born botulism in the US per year is less than 20 cases (granted I don't want to be one) with the majority of these 20 being from meat. 

So, I am wondering if we are on "overkill" on the vegetable canning process - ~  Thanks in advance.  BTW, we have 3 boys here that we have home schooled most of their life.

Hi there, 

That is actually a great question... and I've considered it myself.  BUT I've had too many questions from people who have waterbath processed their vegetables only to have them go bad. 

I shared on facebook an article about a man who took some short cuts canning his meat and got very ill.  I've heard stories of people who have died from botulism from improperly processed vegetables. One of these  was directly from a friend of mine who knew the family.  

The fact is some food spoilage is easy to see.  Mold, fermenting and such you know is there and can take care of it.  But the main concern is botulism.  You can't see, smell or taste botulism.

It is something you have to decide for yourself.  Obviously there are no preserving police out there.  :)   But I personally would NEVER ever ever open kettle can vegetables.  I always use a water bath on my fruits and fruit products and pressure can meats and vegetables.  

Please read through these articles and consider the risks. 

  • This is on open kettle processing - (what your friends are doing)   Open Kettle Processing
  • More safety articles -   Safety recommendations
  • Article on botulism.  Botulism 

I hope that helps you make your decision.
Sharon


Canning Safety and the difficulty of dealing with relatives.   No one wants to offend a mom or friend!

Question: I was showing a friend and her mom how to can chili. Her mom has been doing it for years, however, when I looked into her canning room, more than just a few had mold on the top of the canned food in the jars. I use the Ball Canning Guide as my canning Bible.

I have always been taught that you heat the jars, setting them and the lids in hot water until you go to fill them. The stuff you are putting into the jars must be hot and fully cooked. The headspace for chili according to the guide should be 1 inch.

We overlooked the last point until after a few batches, which explains why our jars bubbled and spewed and did not seal. However, they decided that the reason this was occuring was because we heated the jars and the lids. They also wanted to reduce the time to 1/2 hr after jiggle. I was always taught to time it after jiggle. If the recipe called for processing at 10 lbs for and hour and a half, thats what you do.

Now some of the jars are not sealed and honestly, I am nervous about eating chili that has not been processed but 1/3 the time the book calls for. I am thinking of tossing the chili out for the chickens. Any thoughts? Also, time begins after jiggle - correct???

No one has ever gotten sick from my canning and I give it as gifts to friends with no worries or reservations. Need some input on this!

I would not eat this. You are right to be concerned. Chili MUST be pressure canned. Do it the correct way and you won't have to worry.

You may never change their minds. Canning safety can be a hot topic.  Even so you can graciously give them the safety information.... then smile and let them make their own decision. 

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Canning Safety Overkill is a concept that doesn’t make much sense. Food can be spoiled even without mold. Botulism is the #1 worry for improperly canned food. SimplyCanning.com goes into more detail.
Canning Safety Overkill is a concept that doesn’t make much sense. Food can be spoiled even without mold. Botulism is the #1 worry for improperly canned food. SimplyCanning.com goes into more detail.

Page last updated: 9/23/2020.

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