It is not without irony that I wrote an article entitled “The Multiple Problems Around Advice on Preserving Tomato Sauce” almost exactly one year ago (369 days to be exact). The article is my primer on safety and explain why I can’t answer safety questions about the food you are willing to eat.
It was intended to be my last article on safety.
Botulism and the fear of killing ourselves or our loved ones scares a lot of people away from canning (I say this based on anecdotal conversations I’ve had over the years). Before continuing, I want to share some statistics from the Center for Disease Control (USA) from 2010:
- There is an average of 145 cases of botulism per year.
- 65% occur in infants
- 15% are foodborne
- 1-2 cases per year are caused by home-canned goods.
According to Health Canada, there was:
- 6 cases of foodborne botulism in 2007
- 9 Cases of same in 2008
- 6 cases of same in 2009
Also according to Health Canada, there is a 3% fatality rate (down from 46% in the 1960s).
Canning has certainly increased dramatically since 2010 but it’s important to note that botulism linked to canning is not a plague on all the land!
Canning can lead to other problems such as food poisoning and I’m not trying to minimize the seriousness of something that 1-in-30 could die from but I also want to take care not to spread panic or pandemonium.
In my opinion, there are two main actions a home canner can take when canning:
- Use modern scientifically tested recipes from trusted sources
- Work clean
As I’ve shared in the past (link at top of article), I don’t share all of the recipes that we consume. The ones I share are compared against the US National Center for Home Food Preservation and are, to the best of my ability and knowledge, absolutely safe. Every recipe we share here is consumed by our family and others we love and that’s the best promise I can make to you.
I still believe the most common risk of waterbath canning is the boiling water; I found an inventive way to give myself a third degree burn almost two years ago.
Having said all that, this seems to be the time of year that less-than-safe practices start to appear. We receive an abnormally high volume of questions around safety (usually after someone has made something) and I feel bad that I can’t solid advice. And when I look back at the article about safety above, I now realize why I feel it’s impossible for me (or most bloggers) to give you safety advice:
- When you ask me “is this safe to eat?” the only answer I can give you is “If I would eat it.”
Some calls are easy to make (I’d probably avoid garlic sitting in olive oil at room temperature) but most questions are far more borderline. I’m not a scientist, don’t have your recipe and haven’t seen you go through your process. I’m well researched on preserving, safety, customs and more but my knowledge is based on writing of others, not academic fact. The writing is typically trusted sources (such as the National Center and many published books) but I ultimately answer something different from you asked.
So, unfortunately, my only advice when you derive from a tested path or set of instructions is to keep reading, do your research and then follow what you are comfortable with. And, of course, when in doubt, throw it out…