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Avoiding Canning Catastrophes

Tips for Safe Home Canning to Avoid Botulism, Mold, Yeast, and Spoilage

What is Botulims?

Botulism is a rare but deadly illness caused by toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum and sometimes Clostridium butyricum and Clostridium baratii bacteria. These bacteria can produce the toxin in food, wounds, and the intestines of infants. The bacteria that make botulinum toxins are found naturally in many places but rarely make people sick. Clostridium bacteria make spores that are resistant to many types of disinfectants and harsh environmental conditions. These spores don't usually cause people to become sick when eaten but under the right conditions, these spores can grow and make the most lethal toxin known: Botulinum toxin. It is the botulinum toxin that attacks the body's nerves and causes difficulty in breathing, muscle paralysis, and even death. You can't see, smell, or taste botulinum toxin, even a small taste of food containing this toxin can be deadly

What Conditions Do Botulism Spores Like the Best?
  1. Low-oxygen or no oxygen (anaerobic) environment

  2. Low acid (pH >4.6)

  3. Low sugar

  4. Low salt

  5. A certain temperature range

  6. A certain amount of water

Home Canning and Botulism

Home-canned vegetables are the most common cause of botulism outbreaks in the United States. Between 1996 to 2014 there were 210 outbreaks of food-born botulism; of the 145 cases, 30% (or 43 cases) occurred because home canners did not follow canning instructions, did not use a pressure canner, ignored signs of food spoilage, or didn't know they could get botulism from improperly preserving vegetables.

What are Some Low Acid Foods?
  1. Asparagus

  2. Green beans

  3. Beets

  4. Corn

  5. Potatoes

  6. Some tomatoes

  7. Figs

  8. All meats

  9. Fish and seafood

How can I avoid Botulism Toxin in Canning?
  1. Carefully follow instructions for safe home canning

  2. Use a pressure canner for low-acid foods

  3. Follow all specified home-canning processing times for safe home canning of all food

  4. Do not use an electric, multi-cooker appliance like an instant pot

  5. Pay close attention to the processing times for low-acid food (pH >4.6)

  6. Discard any swollen, gassy, or spoiled canned food, do not save the jar, throw it out as well

  7. Discard any damaged or cracked mason jars

  8. Even containers that look fine on the outside might have contaminated food inside

  9. Suspect contamination if the container spurts liquid or foam when you open it

  10. Suspect contamination if the food inside is discolored, moldy, or smells bad.

What are Some Signs and Symptoms of Botulism Poisoning?
  1. Difficulty swallowing

  2. Muscle weakness

  3. Double vision

  4. Drooping eyelids

  5. Blurry vision

  6. Slurred speech

  7. Difficulty breathing

  8. Difficulty moving the eyes

  9. Vomiting

  10. Nausea

  11. Stomach pain

  12. Diarrhea

Symptoms are the result of the muscle paralysis caused by the botulism toxin. If untreated, the disease may progress and symptoms may worsen to cause full paralysis of some muscles including those used to breathe, muscles in the arms, legs, and trunk/torso/chest/abdomen. Food-borne botulism symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food.

How is Botulism Poisoning Diagnosed and Treated?

Botulism symptoms can also look similar to other diseases such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, meningitis, myasthenia gravis, stroke, and even opioid overdose. Your doctor may need to order tests to make a diagnosis which may include:

  1. Brain scan

  2. Spinal fluid examination

  3. Never and muscle function tests (nerve conduction study and electromyography)

  4. Tensilon test for myasthenia gravis

  5. Lab tests for toxins or bacteria that cause botulism

Please be aware that in some smaller towns and communities, not all of these labs and diagnostics may be available. Doctors treat botulism with a drug called antitoxin, which helps prevent the toxin from causing any more harm. The Antitoxin does not heal the damage the toxin has already done. Depending on how severe your symptoms are, you may need to stay in the hospital for weeks to even months before you are well enough to go home.

If your disease is severe, you may have breathing problems. You may even have respiratory (breathing) failure if the toxin paralyzes the muscles involved in breathing and you could require a ventilator to help you breathe. Because of the development of antitoxin, the chances of dying from botulism are about 5 out of every 100 cases. Complications to botulism may be fatigue and shortness of breath for years afterward and you may need long-term therapy to recover.

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