Monday, July 13, 2009

Russian Roulette

It's great to see so many new folks learning how to preserve food. In these tough economic times, we're definitely seeing an increase in the number of people who want to feed their family for less. Freezing, canning, pickling, drying, and root cellaring can help you achieve this.

Caveat emptor

However, as with any new venture, there are some rules and regs to follow. Why, you ask? Well, when you're dealing with your family's health and safety, it's important to do things right. Sometimes you can do things wrong and nothing bad happens. Other times, you might not be so lucky. It just doesn't pay to take chances. Do the job right every time and you'll be fine.

Fun with Math

On Friday I gave you sort of a math problem. If you loved word problems as a kid, you probably went right to work, ferreting out clues. If you hated word problems, you're my kind of person. I found them intriguing, sort of like ancient Egyptian curses on pharaohs' tombs. So, without further discussion, here's the scenario again and the explanation.

The Scenario: "I created and canned my own salsa recipe. I used onions and peppers and squash. I added tomatoes and fresh lemon juice and even some vinegar. I used the open kettle method to finish it up. I poured it into jars and put on the lids.

The Problem

This salsa sounds delightful. It's an interesting mix of good foods and would be delicious freshly made and served. Leftovers should be refrigerated and used within a reasonable amount of time. However, if you've made enough to feed the 101st Airborne Division, freeze the rest. This is a safe and easy way to ensure it's going to remain healthful. Because......

The Solution

The operative word here that should have set your danger antennae up and alert is canned.

Vegetables are low-acid foods. This means they must be processed in a pressure canner or have enough acid added to them to ensure they will not grow some nasty, nasty organisms when the food is sealed in canning jars. What's the danger here?

We don't have any way of knowing the amounts of anything that's gone into this recipe. It's a hit or miss affair and while it may taste wonderful fresh out of the cooking pot, there's a definite danger waiting in the wings. How acid is it? We don't know. Is this salsa safe to eat? Maybe. Maybe not. Want to take a chance? You're flirting with....


When you heat food and then put it into jars and seal those jars, you have created an anaerobic environment. This means an environment without air. Botulism finds this homey and comfortable and sets to work making itself to home.

The problem with botulism toxin is that it's colorless, odorless, and tasteless. However, it can kill you.

Insurance Policy

Follow tested and approved recipes when you're planning on canning. You can get the Extension Service Bulletin "Salsa Recipes for Canning" by calling your local office. The number is in the phone book.

Experiment to your heart's content when you're serving fresh foods. Follow the recipes to the letter of the law when you're canning. Sterilize your jars and measure ingredients exactly. I've been told some people have played Russian Roulette many times. True, but others only play it once.

On Wednesday, more on open kettle canning and why you shouldn't do this.

Check out the Fact of the Week in the right hand column for an additional safety measure.


  1. Yes, I remember my first experience with canning tomatoes. Who can mess up tomatoes, right? But when I discovered they were pushing the sealed lids aside and oozing (perhaps rushing is a better word) over the jar tops as though the mess was alive, I quickly moved them to the kitchen sink and watched all my work go down the drain (literally). It was like something out of a horror movie. Must be very, very careful.

  2. Glad to see the correct methods clearly and understandably posted. The process clearly needs to be correctly done, or, well, the results won't what you thought.

    Best regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  3. It's not rocket science, but it IS science. I keep thinking of high school chem class. Was I supposed to add the water to the acid or the acid to the water....

  4. It is so good to know this. With the economy the way it is, especially, this might just be the best time to learn about canning and preserving...the RIGHT way. Thanks Karen!

    Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

  5. I knew there was a good reason I never had the desire to can food. Now, if I try, I know what NOT to do.

  6. Thanks friends. Canning is great fun and even more fun when you do it right.

  7. it! Good to know. That's all we need here is a case of botulism!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  8. It's the last thing you want to include in your gift-giving, and many of these home made are made with just that in mind.

  9. "When Salsa goes Bad." I didn't realize canning could be so dangerous. Is this in your book, or are you going to put in in your next book? Thanks for the tip.

    Steve Tremp


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~ I'm the author of Headwind: The Intrepid Adventures of OSS Agent Katrin Nissen. If you're a WWII buff, you'll like it here!