Home canning is an excellent way to preserve garden produce and share it with family and friends, but it can be risky or even deadly if not done correctly and safely.
It’s almost summer, and home gardeners will soon start to harvest the delicious produce they’ve been growing this year. Did you know 1 in 5 U.S. households can their own food, and 65% of those households can vegetables? Home canning is a great way to preserve your garden goodies. But beware: if it’s done the wrong way, the vegetables you worked so hard for could become contaminated by a germ that causes botulism, a serious illness that can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and even cause death. Read on to learn about the symptoms and the safe way to can so you can protect yourself, your family, and others when you share your home-canned goodies.
CDC is working with the Ohio Department of Health and the Fairfield Department of Health in Fairfield County, Ohio, to investigate an outbreak of foodborne botulism. For more information, please visit the Ohio Department of Health botulism page and the Fairfield Health Department.
Don’t let your canned veggies spoil
Follow these two tips to keep your canned vegetables safe and keep them from spoiling.
1. Use proper canning techniques.
Make sure your food preservation information is always current with up-to-date, scientifically tested guidelines. Don’t use outdated publications or cookbooks, even if they were handed down to you from trusted family cooks.
You can find in-depth, step-by-step directions from the following sources:
The National Center for Home Food Preservation
USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning
The state and county extension service of your state university
2. Use the right equipment for the kind of foods that you are canning.
Always use a pressure canner. Pressure canning is the only recommended method for canning vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood. Pressure canning kills the germ that causes botulism when foods are processed at the correct time and pressure in pressure canners.
Do not use boiling water canners because they will not protect against botulism poisoning.
Make your home-canned vegetables safe
Use a pressure canner.
Be sure the gauge of the pressure canner is accurate.
Use up-to-date process times and pressures for the kind of food, the size of jar, and the method of packing food in the jar.
What is botulism?
Botulism is a rare, but serious illness caused by a germ called Clostridium botulinum. The germ is found in soil and can survive, grow, and produce toxin in a sealed jar of food. This toxin can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and even cause death. Even taking a small taste of food containing this toxin can be deadly.
Botulism is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms of foodborne botulism, seek medical care immediately.
Symptoms may include the following:
Use proper canning techniques and equipment to make sure your canned vegetables are safe.
Protect yourself from botulism: When in doubt, throw it out!
Home-canned foods could be contaminated but look, smell and taste normal.
If there is any doubt about whether safe canning guidelines have been followed, do not eat the food.
Home-canned food might be contaminated if:
The container is leaking, bulging, or swollen
The container looks damaged, cracked, or abnormal
The container spurts liquid or foam when opened
The food is discolored, moldy, or smells bad
If you suspect home-canned food might be contaminated with the germs that cause botulism, throw the food away.
If any of the food spills, wipe up the spill using a dilute bleach solution (1/4 cup bleach for each 2 cups of water).
Never taste home-canned food to determine if it is safe. Do not taste or eat foods from containers that are leaking, have bulges or are swollen, or look damaged, cracked, or abnormal.
When you open a jar of home-canned food, thoroughly inspect the food. Do not taste or eat foods that are discolored, moldy, or smell bad. Do not eat food from a can that spurted liquid or foamed when it was opened.
Do not open or puncture any unopened cans, commercial or home-canned, if you suspect contamination.
Outbreaks and Home-Canned Vegetables
Home-canned vegetables are the most common cause of botulism outbreaks in the United States. From 1996 to 2008, there were 116 outbreaks of foodborne botulism reported to CDC. Of the 48 outbreaks that were caused by home-prepared foods, 18 outbreaks, or 38%, were from home-canned vegetables. These outbreaks often occur because home canners did not follow canning instructions, did not use pressure canners, ignored signs of food spoilage, and were unaware of the risk of botulism from improperly preserving vegetables.
For more information, see Three outbreaks of foodborne botulism caused by unsafe home canning of vegetables–Ohio and Washington, 2008 and 2009.
General information about botulism (Clostridium botulinum)
Botulism at FoodSafety.gov
Foodborne Illness Q&A
Medscape commentary: Botulism: Countering Common Clinical Misperceptions
The Complete USDA Guide to Home Canning[504 KB]
FoodSafety.gov Blog: Home-Canned Vegetables: Delicious and Safe
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Preserving Food at Home: A Self-Study
So Easy to Preserve
Temperatures for Food Preservation
pH Values for Foods
Recent Scientific Articles about Botulism
Botulism Associated with Home-Fermented Tofu in Two Chinese Immigrants — New York City, March–April 2012