Exercise Care When it Comes to Canning Safety
New botulism discoveries lead USDA to urge new canning safety methods.
Hank Will in his International Harvester pickup.
courtesy Karen Keb
In our May/June issue, we printed a recipe for home-canned salsa that included using starch as a thickener. Shortly after that issue hit the newsstand, I received a helpful letter about canning safety noting that the USDA no longer approves of canning salsas that use starch as a thickener because its presence could lead to uneven heating of the jars in the water bath, and since salsa contains non-acidic ingredients such as onions and peppers, the threat of botulism is real. Yikes!
I chewed on this information, while considering that my Ball Blue Book was more than a decade old and the recipe we published (and its untold variations) has been in use for scores of years by mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and even a few of their male counterparts.
So, I investigated the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) website to see what I might learn about safe canning in the modern world.
Upon its inception in 2000, the NCHFP immediately conducted a national survey and concluded that “a high percentage of home food processors are using practices that put them at high risk for foodborne illness and economic losses due to food spoilage,” and set about the task of developing scientifically approved and tested recipes and canning protocols that would ensure the safety of home-canned foods.
Further research into home-canning safety led me to the Pick Your Own website’s botulism page where I learned, among many other useful facts, that there are about 145 botulism cases a year in the United States – approximately 15 percent (roughly 22) of those are foodborne poisonings (not necessarily from home-canned food). This might be why botulism wasn’t on my radar screen when a reader offered that venerable old salsa recipe – I can’t recall the last time the national news picked up on botulism poisoning from home-canned foods.