Country Living Series

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dangerous advice

This morning I was reading CNN.com when I saw what looked like an interesting article on canning, entitled Capturing Summer in a Mason Jar. This led me to a CNN-sponsored blog called Eatocracy, and it included a nifty recipe for tomato sauce. However it included some misinformation on preserving the sauce that horrified me.

This article had a link to another blog post called Sauce Making is a Family Affair with even worse preserving advice.

Alarmed, I sent an email to CNN as follows:
________________________


While reading the "Eatocracy" post by Ashley Strickland entitled "Capturing Summer in a Mason Jar" which offers an excellent recipe for tomato sauce, I was disturbed to see that the author recommends (under Tip 8) "Additional tips: You can process the jars of sauce in a water bath to seal them."

This is INCORRECT. The recipe provided includes such ingredients as onions and bell peppers. These are low-acid foods and MUST be pressure canned in order to prevent the deadly disease of botulism. The rule of thumb for canning mixed-ingredient foods is to PROCESS THE FOOD IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE INGREDIENT REQUIRING THE LONGEST PROCESSING TIME. In this particular case, bell peppers require processing at 10 lbs pressure (adjusted for altitude) for 45 minutes (quarts). Anything less -- much less water-bath canning -- invites the risk of botulism.

Even without the addition of low-acid ingredients, sauces made with modern hybrid tomatoes are often too low-acid to be safely canned in a water-bath. It is recommended that citric acid or another acidifier be added to increase the acidity in order to safely water-bath can.

In addition to this dangerous advice, Ms. Strickland links to another of her blog posts called “Sauce Making is a Family Affair” with a sauce recipe that concludes with the following advice: “The finished sauce is funneled those trusty mason jars that are layered at the bottom with a couple pieces of homegrown basil. The jars are sealed and then go, "to bed" where they rest on the floor of my garage, covered in blankets for about a week.” This is later supplemented as follows: “The jars should be laid down on their side and covered in an old comforter. I use my garage to store them. The idea is to keep the bottle of sauce warm for as long as possible. The jars of sauce should be kept under the blankets for at least a week. After that you can fill up your pantry with your fresh bottles of tomato sauce. They should last for about a year.”

This technique is known as “open-kettle canning” and has been debunked from one side of the planet to the other as an unsafe and unacceptable canning option. It is DANGEROUS for Ms. Strickland to promote a technique which could literally kill someone by inviting botulism. Several comments left at the end of this blog post confirm these concerns.

I am a master canner and have canned for over twenty years, and have about two thousand jars of home-canned food in my pantry. I've given talks, written articles, and taught classes on canning. It is irresponsible of Ms. Strickland to promote unsafe canning practices through such a broad media outlet as CNN. I strongly urge Ms. Strickland to correct her recommendations before some novice canner gets food poisoning.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.
________________________

Let's hope they listen.

42 comments:

  1. I would think that CNN would want to be quite protective of their remaining audience and not wish them to die from botulism. Since they have obviously not done any checking about safe canning practices which can be done in about, oh, 20 seconds, I suppose they still have too many watching.

    Or perhaps botulism only poisons people that watch Fox.

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    1. Haha.
      Exactly what I thought.

      I expect your message will fall on deaf ears, but you can always hope.

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    2. Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but our friendly neighborhood media outlets are owned by entities wanting to trim the fat (population of what they consider useless eaters) to around 500 million total worldwide. They'll likely only promote this article harder if they think they can kill off a few more of us DIY'ers with something as innocent looking as a country recipe for botulism... err... tomato sauce.

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    3. Most likely, the journalism major assigned to write the story is simply ignorant and lazy.

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  2. Patrice,

    Thank you for setting them straight. Geez, I wonder how many people got sick using the advice from these two blogs.

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  3. Wow, how very irresponsible. I read the article two minutes ago and at the bottom was this vague and general disclaimer.
    (Editor's note – if you plan to store sauce or any jarred goods unrefrigerated for an extended period of time, please follow proper sterilization processes as indicated by the jars' manufacturer.)
    This adds to the confusion, in my opinion, as it says to sterilize the jars and not the food in the jars. Since they do not mention safe canning instructions, it still leaves CNN liable. It only takes ONE time, and they are casting a very wide net. How would the author of the article feel if her instructions killed someone? Would she even acknowledge that it was her fault? She has posted several comments about how the water bath is not necessary and her family has been doing this for generations...yada yada. What she and many others fail to realize is that just because you have gotten away with it before (meaning there just happened to be no botulism in the jars THAT time and/or the acidity happened to be at a high enough level) does not mean you can get away with it indefinitely. I personally don't want to guess if my food is okay to eat. I certainly would not feed her sauce recipe (improperly canned) to anyone, or even my dog!

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  4. They'll figure out their mistake at about the same time as when someone that followed their canning instructions brings a multi-million dollar lawsuit against them! CNN has "deep pockets" and I am sure some enterprising attorney would LOVE a case like that!

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  5. My grandma "open-kettle bottles" to this day and has never kept the bottles warm for a week or put them "to bed" by laying them down! Very interesting and an embarrassing display of a lack of common sense on Ms. Strickland's part.

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    1. Thanks to the recomendations on this blog (thank you Patrice), I borrowed Putting Food By from my library. I was supprised to read that keeping the jars warm is acctually very bad! I am still reading and am not clear on the specifics. I'm going to have to add this one to my personal library as it is in high demand and I am want to take my time and learn as much as I can from it.

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    2. recommendations* surprised* actually*
      Sorry about that. I was apparently in a hurry.

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  6. I felt unwell just reading the article!

    On a related note, THANK YOU, Patrice for your awesome canning inspiration and information (and e-books)! In April, my daughters & I water-bath canned (applesauce) for the first time. My husband surprised me a couple weeks ago with a new pressure canner, so I also just pressure-canned for the first time -- chicken broth and vegetables (separate batches, of course!). We used Tattler lids too, by following your directions, and they all sealed fine! You're wonderful and I can't thank you enough.

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  7. Me and my mom can lots of salsa. We add bell pepper, onion, and some zucchini if we have it on hand. We add citric acid to each jar. We have always hot water bathed according the the instructions in the Ball book. We have never had a single jar go bad.
    Kimberly

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    1. At Home Daughter, PLEASE I beg you, do NOT water-bath salsa. Increased citric acid does NOT substitute for pressure canning with low-acid ingredients like zucchini and bell peppers. Acidifiers such as citric acid may help tip an already acidic food (such as tomatoes) into the safe zone, but they do NOT make low-acid foods acidic enough to safely water-bath can.

      Remember the old adage, "Past experience does not guarantee future results." Just because you've successfully dodged the bullet in the past does not mean there isn't a bullet in the chamber. Please be safe while canning.

      - Patrice

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    2. Patrice, I have to agree with At Home Daughter. I have been canning for 30 years and my Mom has been canning 30 years before me. My Grandmothers, Aunts, neighbors, and friends all have a number of years (too many to count) of canning under their belts. I water bath my homemade sphagheti sauce plus pickles and other relishes that contain cucumbers, onions and peppers--I have never had a problem. Yes, I believe the other advice mentioned in the article is incorrect and a little strange (actually a lot strange). However, I find this sudden phobia of water bathing a little perplexing. For all of my life I have watched the science of home canning unfold in my kitchen and in numerous kitchens around me. Over time one learns to view propaganda for what it is. I believe that this is another area where the enemy is attacking our confidence in things of old and our self-sufficiency(e.g. it is so hard to find canning supplies and they are costly). Frankly, if the grid goes down and there is an economic collapse pressure canning would be one of the least efficient forms of food storage in terms of energy used and nutrition loss. We are switching more and more to dehydration and canning the things that we can water bath with confidence that years of experience give.

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    3. I actually forgot to mention that we also add vinegar to the salsa. The Ball books instructions for canning salsa with onions and bell pepper is to add vinegar and "hot water bath can".
      Kimberly

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    4. I do have to agree with The Hagen Family, my grandma, mom, and myself have been making salsa, whole tomatoes, and red sauce by way of water bath for many years and have never had an issue. I believe in being careful and safe, but I too find the phobia of water bathing perplexing. I posted earlier, my grandma still "open kettle bottles" jellies and apple butter and she's never had an issue either.... *knocks on wood* Although I'm still perplexed about the whole blanket and laying bottles down process....

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    5. I also agree with At Home Daughter and The Hagen Family. I also have been canning for 30 plus years and put by salsa. When I have looked online for different salsa recipes they can be found at different states county extension sites they all waterbath their salsas. From what I have read it goes by the ratio of peppers and onions to leave it the same as the recipe and do not add more if more is added the safe bet is to pressure can. Most of the salsa recipes have added vinegar and or lemon juice which brings up the acidity. We all are still alive and enjoying salsa. Just my two cents worth.
      MT Jeri

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    6. At home daughter
      If you change the Ball recipe, then it is not the Ball recipe. If you follow their recipe EXACTLY then it is fine. They have tested their recipes and have the balance of acid, and solid to liquid ratio down.

      The Hagen Family
      One million people can do something wrong and get by on luck. Just because you mom’s, mom’s, mom and all her aunts and cousins and mailmen didn’t get sick doesn’t mean they are canning safely. I suggest you learn the science behind canning, and not rely on old unsafe methods. Just because something is old doesn’t make it right or wrong. You want the doctor to wash his hands before he delivers a baby right? The more we learn the safer we can do these things. I’m not sure what propaganda you are referring to, but I can tell you I have no fear what-so-ever of water bath canning because I know what can and cannot be processed that way. As for “the enemy”, perhaps he is keeping people ignorant and prideful? I don’t know.

      Joe and Jill
      If you have to “knock on wood” for your food to be safe to eat, something is wrong. If you want to gamble with your health and maybe your life, that is your business. I do suggest that you too read up on WHY it is unsafe to water bath low acid foods.

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    7. Patrice gave excellent advice, but it's up to each of us to THINK and take that advice! Like Patrice said, "Past experience does not guarantee future results." Our parents, aunts, grandparents, etc., have done many things for many years that were just plain unsafe. Many of us are still alive IN SPITE of them! People have died of "unknown causes" more than we can count. Who can say at times it wasn't because of tainted canned foods? For Heaven sake, if there are better and SAFER ways to do anything and EVERYTHING, we should welcome them with open arms! No doubt the girl who wrote the CNN.com article will argue about her way of canning salsa, too.

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    8. WOW--I am very new to this sort of logic. OK something has been successful hundreds of thousands of times and all of a sudden the government declares that it is harmful and I am suppose to "think and take that advice." I personally do not know of anyone who has died from eating home canned foods but I believe food poison/botulism is such an uncomfortable affair that people end up in the hospital most of the time and would not just die of "unknown causes" since there are very measurable symptoms of these conditions. I suppose I should stop drinking my raw milk and sign up for every new vaccine that the government says I should have. This year's flu shots are already available--shall we make a date? (I have only had one flu shot and I got the flu that year.)

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    9. Wow - I wouldn't be taking a chance with botulism...there is no cure. You will die. Quickly.

      The big change for me is that tomatoes have changed in the last 30 years and are not as acidic as they used to be. Recipes and methods have been updated to take the less acidic tomatoes into consideration. If you're using a recipe and/or methods that are more than 5 years old you are a real risk taker. Be sure to have your will and other estate matters in order.

      I'll use a pressure canner and I never watch CNN

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    10. Amen, and Amen, The Hagen Family!

      I grew up eating home canned food, as did my parents, and so have my children, and I find it utterly ridiculous to believe that it's only somehow because of "luck" that none of us have ever gotten sick from eating anything that was canned using the water-bath method.

      NCClyde

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    11. The Hagen Family,

      I fully agree with you on some points, but I’m pretty sure the government didn’t just one day declare that water bath canning is harmful. It's not, when used for the proper foods. Even if they did unexpectedly declare that it is not safe to water bath your tomatoes and onions and they were the only entity in the world to do any research on canning, that doesn’t mean they are conspiring to make you cook your food at a higher temperature. The government might be royally messed up right now, but that doesn’t mean that EVERY thing that they have done in the past is wrong. There are about 145 cases of botulism reported each year*. The odds are unlikely that you would know one of them. Would knowing someone who had it change your mind? Obviously botulism is rare. That doesn’t mean you can’t get sick from under processed food. If you wish to take the chance and, yes, rely on luck that you don’t become ill, that’s up to you. Just like drinking raw milk, you take a chance that some germ or another MIGHT get into your milk. The difference is that you are not storing your milk on the shelf for an extended period of time and our immune systems can take care of MOST little nasties. Raw milk is a chance I am willing to take. You can prevent most contamination of milk without cooking it. If you water bath a jar of green beans, no matter how clean you keep everything, you are at risk for botulism. I am not willing to risk it. If you are one hundred percent sure you will not get sick from your food, then nothing any one says will change your mind. I AM one hundred percent sure that my pressure canned low acid foods will not make my family sick. If there is the slightest chance of making someone ill, why wouldn't you use the safer method?

      * http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/botulism/

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    12. I appoligize if I gave the impression that I was water bathing low acid foods. I have never water bathed green beans nor would I ever. Nor have I water bathed any other low acidic foods. However, I believe my tomatoes are highly acidic--I grow my own and I grow old reliable varieties not the new and improved varieties. I follow the recipe from the Ball Blue Book. I just bought a new copy a few years ago and they still have seasoned tomato sauces processed with a water bath. This is a company that has been in the canning business for over a 100 years.

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    13. Hi! I'm enjoying this site, and am inspired to break out my pressure canner again.

      However, I have to agree with the water bath proponents. If you follow the tested recipes in the Ball book, and don't change the ingredients or the processing times, you're fine to can with the water bath method.

      This year, as most years, I put up many, many jars of tomatoes, and salsa with onions and peppers. I am confident that I can trust this method.

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  8. Thank you, Patrice, for thinking and taking time to email someone about this. It's encouraging to see in an era of so much "that's not my responsibility".

    I continue to be amazed by the unsafe information people post; I have left one star reviews on Amazon for canning books I've read with similarly vague or blatantly unsafe instructions. Aren't there enough food safety issues already? Surely we don't need to purposely court any more through bad authorship and foolish advice!

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  9. So do you get your pressure canner checked at the extension office every year?
    What will happen if the TWEAWKI event happens who will check them then? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

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    1. Extension office? You're either being funny or you're just another annoying snark. I'm sure Patrice does everything she should for safety and according to the law to keep her canned foods safe for consumption. If/when "TWEAWKI" happens, she will do her best to survive. YOU will no doubt wonder why your government isn't taking care of you while you!

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    2. Umm-the USDA recommends that you have your pressure canner calibrated yearly at your extension office. Never have done it though. I am not sure if they would know how to do such a thing.

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    3. I had been told that the extension office was a good place to have pressure gauges checked, but my extension office had no idea what I was talking about.

      For that reason I switched to using the weights. Weighted gauges won't change over time and will work just fine for "TWEAWKI"

      Also, I agree with Patrice and My Cuppa Tea. The Ball salsa is designed to be exactly the right PH for water bath processing. You shouldn't mess with the recipe unless you have a way to check the PH and really know what you are doing.

      I processed tomato sauce this year from tomatoes that I knew to be low acid. I added acid and still decided to pressure can to make sure they were safe.

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    4. Lancaster county (PA) county extension office checks calibration weekly. Just need an appointment. No cost.

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    5. I've had my pressure canner tested at my extension office. They knew what to do. I'm pretty sure it was at Patrice's advice too.

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    6. Pressure gauge checks are also performed at no cost by the manufacturer, call or email them to get the specifics.

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  10. Our first thought, dear Patrice, is WHY in the WORLD are you visiting a left-wing website like CNN? We used to read CNN's articles, as well as the Huffington Post and several others, but we got tired of their almost solely left-biased writers. They had a few who were somewhat conservative, but of course the radical hard-line lefties demanded they be terminated, and they were.

    However, after reading your letter to CNN and your advice about canning salsa, we're glad you were reading the site! You very possibly saved a few lives. As for CNN, they're a liberal-progressive organization, and being so, they believe they are never EVER wrong. we're betting the only way they'll retract or modify the canning advice is if there's a chance of a huge lawsuit. Common sense, decency and consideration for others isn't in the liberal-progressive's vocabulary, but a lawsuit sure is!

    When sensible people find out they've been doing something wrong, even if it's been without any serious consequences... YET, they change the way they've been doing those things FOR THE BETTER. That's only being prudent. Stubborn, UNwise people will insist on sticking to the way "it's always been done." That's being irresponsible and just plain dumb.

    Someone once said, "You can't fix stupid." Sadly, for many people that's true. But we should still try. --Fred & Deb in AZ

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  11. Patrice! Help! Are there any salsa recipes that ARE safe to waterbath? Can anyone confirm if the Ball recipe is safe? I am not at all interested in pressure canning salsa this year especially being 8 1/2 months pregnant and I have never done anything but waterbath it.

    I feel even sillier since I've been following your blog for a couple years now and always nod along with your canning safety advice and had no idea I was doin' it WRONG with my salsa. Boooo! I LOVE how my salsa turns out in the waterbath. Thankfully I haven't made anyone sick. YET!

    Please tell this huge tired and sore lady that I can still waterbath SOME sort of salsa!

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    1. You can trust the Ball recipe.

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    2. Wisconsin coop ext office has multiple delicious sounding salsa recipes.. All hot water bathed. Sorry this is long, but its a very nice e-booklet. Www.learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/b3570.pdf. This also tell how to substitute ingreds you prefer and not change acidity.

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  12. There are only a few resources I trust when it comes to canning advice and Rural Revolution is one of them.


    Just Me

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  13. My dial gauge pressure canner's rocker begins to gently rock at 14 1/2pounds so I know that if I keep it at that gentle rock, it is about 15 pounds. Since my elevation requires 12 pounds, I feel quite safe not worrying about government calibration.
    Anonymous at 6:38pm, follow the Ball recipe exactly, and it will be safe. Always use common sense when you open the jars, any jars, whether pressure canned or water bath canned.
    As far as what is "safer", are the "old ways" safe? Maybe. Are the "new ways" safe? Probably. Do the "new ways" cook out every last vestige of nutrition from my food? I think they do and it really bothers me to take food that I have worked long and hard to grow in a healthy way and suck every bit of nutrition out of it when I jar it. That being said, I do follow the "new way" instructions to be safe from toxins and try to eat as much fresh, raw food as possible to counter the overcooked jarred food.
    Paintedmoose

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  14. hmmmm...i wonder how old the ball salsa recipe is and perhaps it has been changed over the years. i do a lot of water bath canning, but i also use my two pressure canners...also, your canning time is almost cut in half by using a pressure canner and can be more energy efficient than water bath canning. patrice is absolutely correct and the same information is given from others who master food preservation. some things i freeze-but most things that go in the freezer have to be blanched first. when my freezer is full, i use the water and the pressure canners. when the shelves are full and it is end of harvest season i use a dehydrator so that absollutely nothing gets thrown out or goes to waste. it is not just botulism that a person has to watch out for...there is salmonella, and other illnesses that can occur from eating foods not processed correctly...and not all of these illnesses are fatal or require hospitals or drs...but, processing properly can keep you off of the commode and wondering what it was that caused the runs or belly ache.

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    1. if you are cutting your time in half by pressure canning you are doing something incorrrect. According to Patrice the sauce should have been processed for 45 minutes after bottling. If you follow the Ball Blue Book seasoned sauce recipe it is water bathed for 35 minutes after bottling. So if you have a traditional home canner you can only do 7 jars at a time and you must wait for the pressure to come up and go down.

      After doing some research on dehydrattion we have found it to be a far supperior method for food preservation (you retain so much of the nutrition of your food). For those of you who have not done this the taste is amazing. We bought our first one several years ago and we love it. Sometimes we wish we had two. However, we are hoping to build a solar soon. Don't buy the little round ones from the big box stores though.

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  15. I have not read everything here but will put my 2 cents worth in...my mom and grandma hot water bathed to can acid things and we never got sick...and once someone gave me home canned CORN telling me only after I'd eaten that it was canned open kettle method.I DID NOT sleep that night !! I have heard of a person who survived botulism who was in the hospital next to my friend who was in labor.My friend in labor said she felt soooo sorry for that woman... there couldn't be anything worse.I only can tomatoes with citric acid no additions and I have the fear of messing around with anything less even if I have never gotten sick ,I would never sleep if I fed my family something I wasn'100 % sure of .Karen

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