Safe Preserving: Botulism in homemade pickles


Homemade of Leavenworth, WA has recalled all pickle and sauce products due to the risk of botulism poisoning.

Consumers who follow an up-to-date recipe for homemade pickled products can avoid the risk of illness from Clostridium botulinum.  But the risk of botulism poisoning from improperly prepared pickled products does exist, as evidenced by a recall of pickled products by Homemade of Leavenworth.

On July 14, 2015, Homemade of Leavenworth (WA) recalled all pickle and sauce products manufactured by the company. The pH level on products tested by the Washington State Department of Agriculture was high enough to allow the growth of Clostridium botulinum.

The recalled products were sold from small retailers and fruit stands in Chelan and Douglas counties in Washington State. Recalled products include Bread and Butter Pickles, Icicle Pickles, Pickled Beets, Chili Sauce, and BBQ Sauce (lite, medium, hot and horseradish). The Food and Drug Administration has published complete details of the recall.

Wisconsin has a vibrate industry of small processors manufacturing and selling boutique pickles, sauces, salsas, and jellied fruit products.  Consumers are urged to remember that most manufacturers of canned products in the state of Wisconsin are subject to license by the state.  Licensed processors are required to have their recipes for canning approved, and to test, and record, the pH of each batch of pickles, salsa, and sauce that they manufacture.  These licensing safeguards will help keep Wisconsin residents safe from foodborne illness. Consumers who have questions about manufactured foods for sale should contact the Division of Food Safety of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.

Consumers are also reminded that there is one exemption from the licensing requirement. Wisconsin has a ‘Pickle Bill‘ that allows a person to manufacture in their home kitchen, and sell at a farmers’ market or community event in Wisconsin, canned fruits or acidified vegetables that have a pH of 4.6 or below. The person is limited to sales of $5,000 per year of food manufactured. This licensing exemption applies only to canned pickles and fruits, not to bakery items, spices, etc. A person selling without a license is required to post a sign at the place of sale stating: ‘These canned goods are homemade and not subject to state inspection.’ And, each container of food sold must be properly labeled and include the statement ‘This product was made in a private home not subject to state licensing or inspection.’ These statements are designed to help keep the public informed and food-safe.  More facts about the ‘Pickle Bill‘ can be found online.  Stay food-safe, Barb


Safe & Healthy: Best not to kiss your chickens

salmonella-outbreakHealth officials across the United States are investigating four multi-state outbreaks of human Salmonella infections linked to contact with live poultry. As of the end of June, 2015, 181 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella have been reported from 40 states, with 33 people hospitalized as a result. The increased number of families keeping backyard poultry may be fueling the outbreak of disease.

Contact with live poultry and their environment can make people sick with Salmonella infections. Live poultry can be carrying Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness. Backyard flock owners should take steps to protect themselves and their families:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until you are able to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Do not let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens, or outdoor patios.
  • Children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65, and people with weakened immune systems should not handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry. People in these groups are more likely to have a severe illness from Salmonella infection.
  • Do not snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for live poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers.

Mail-order hatcheries, agricultural feed stores, and others that sell or display chicks, ducklings, and other live poultry should  provide health-related information to owners and potential purchasers of these birds prior to the point of purchase. This should include information about the risk of acquiring a Salmonella infection from contact with live poultry.

Are there any restrictions about owning live poultry? Rules and regulations vary by city, and county ordinances, so check with your local government to determine restrictions about owning live poultry.

Additional information is available:

Stay food safe! Barb

Safe Preserving: Using Tattler Lids

Jar with Tattler lid and gasket. Used with a standard metal ring band during processing.

Jar with Tattler lid and gasket. Used with a standard metal ring band during processing.

What’s the status of research on the Tattler-style reusable plastic lids? We should know within the next year or two. Dr. Elizabeth Andress with the National Center for Home Food Preservation is conducting research on this style of lids.

Until that research is published, we don’t recommend that consumers use these lids for canning. For more information on plastic reusable lids, see the blog from 2014 which provides more detail.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation and Extension programs rely on research to inform recommendations that help to ensure that consumers are following safe, high quality recipes when home canning.

Safe preserving! Barb

Safe Preserving: NOW jams and jellies in PINT jars

jamSafe preserving means following a recipe that has been tested to ensure that the final product is safe and high quality – something that you would be proud to serve your family and friends. Many of us have struggled for years since tested recipes only recommended canning jams and jellies in jars no larger than half-pints. Those half-pint jars of jam or jelly are so delicious….they don’t last very long. Our families might even consume an entire half-pint jar (or two) in one sitting.

Just released, the National Center for Home Food Preservation has updated their processing recommendations for jams and jellies to allow for processing in pint jars! This is great news for families wanting to follow a tested recipe.

The University of Wisconsin-Extension recipes will eventually be updated to reflect this change. For now, if you follow a UW-Extension recipe, simply extend the processing time by 5 minutes when processing jams and jellies in pint jars. So, at elevations under 1,000 feet, process jams or jelly for 5 minutes in half-pint jars, and 10 minutes in pint jars. For elevations over 1,000 feet in Wisconsin, add 1 minute to processing time: 6 minutes for half-pint jars, and 11 minutes for pint jars. Smaller quarter-pint jars are processed at the time recommended for half-pints.

Safe preserving! Barb

Safe Preserving: What does ‘use a tested recipe’ mean when steam canning?

Image courtesy of Back to Basics

Image courtesy of Back to Basics

The University of Wisconsin recently issued recommendations for safely using an atmospheric steam canner for home canning of naturally acid or acidified foods.  One of the questions that has been asked (repeatedly) based on these recommendations is: “What does it mean to use a ‘tested recipe’ when canning with an atmospheric steam canner?”

Research conducted at the University of Wisconsin indicated that naturally acid foods, such as peaches or apples, or acidified foods, such as pickles or salsa,  may be safely canned in a steam canner as long as a recipe tested for a boiling water canner is used.

What does this actually mean? This means that consumers follow a tested recipe, simply using a steam canner, instead of a boiling water canner, at the processing step. For example, if you are canning strawberry jam, an approved recipe will instruct the user to prepare a tested recipe, fill hot jars and apply lids, and then place the filled jars in a boiling water canner. Once the boiling water canner reaches a full rolling boil, the jars are processed for 5 minutes.

If you use a steam canner for this recipe, the jars are filled and lids applied. At this point, the filled jars are placed on the rack in the base of the steam canner (that contains about 3 quarts of water). Once the canner is filled: 7 quart jars, 8 pint jars, or 8-10 half-pint jars, the dome lid is placed over the base and the canner heated over high heat. When the temperature in the canner reaches boiling, about 210-212°F depending on your elevation, the processing time starts. Evidence that the processing temperature has been reached in a steam canner is a 6-8″ column of steam emitting through the vent port(s) in the canner, or the reading on a thermometer placed in the dome. The time for the steam canner to reach processing temperature is usually ~5 minutes, even when filled with raw-packed food in quart jars; far less than the time usually required for a boiling water canner to reach boiling under the same conditions.

High acid foods can generally be safely canned in a steam canner as long as a consumer follows a research tested recipe. The booklet accompanying an Atmospheric Steam Canner can’t be relied on to provide safe canning instructions.

Safe preserving! Barb

Safe Preserving: Can electric cookers be used for canning?

ElectricPressureCookersA simple web search these days reveals any number of electric pressure cookers for sale. While these units claim that they can be used as pressure canners, this is not the case. These units have not been tested to ensure that they may safely be used for canning, and they are only recommended for cooking.

How does a pressure cooker work? A pressure cooker locks in steam so that meat, vegetables, soups, etc cook at a high temperature in a moist environment. This type of cooking can be a great way to cook tougher cuts of meat, to soften and cook dry beans, and to prepare firm vegetables such as beets. However, it is not possible with an electric-style multi-cooker to maintain adequate pressure for canning. These pressure cookers do not come with pressure gauges and can not be used to safely can food.

When can a pressure cooker be used as a canner? Pressure canners have either dial or weighted gauges. Pressure canners must be used when canning low-acid foods such as meats and vegetables.

Pressure canners may hold up to 22 Quarts of canned food, and are able to process food at pressures up to 25 pounds. Some popular brands of pressure canners are Mirro, Presto, and All American. Pressure canners are adjustable to pressures of 5, 10, or 15 pounds (psi) for weight-style canners, or over the range from 0-20 pounds (psi) for a dial-style canner.  A pressure canner must be able to hold at least 4 quart jars (not 4 quarts of water). A unit that is too small will heat and cool too quickly to ensure product safety.

What if the manufacturer of my electric pressure cooker gives instructions for home canning? Even if there are instructions for pressure canning in the manufacturer’s directions, Extension does not support the use of the USDA canning processes in the electric, multi-cooker appliances now containing “canning” or “steam canning” buttons on their front panels.  The USDA pressure process directions have not been developed to ensure the safety of the product canned in an electric pressure cooker/canner. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a nice summary of the issue.

Be sure to follow a research-tested recipe and use the right equipment when home canning. Safe preserving, Barb

Safe & Healthy: Green Eggs and Green Ham

green-eggs-and-ham-seussIn the famous children’s book by Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham,  Sam-I-Am persists in asking the story’s lead character  to try green eggs and ham.  It makes for an engaging children’s story, but are green eggs and ham safe to eat? Let’s find out!

Why is the yolk of a hard-boiled egg sometimes green around the edge? Is it safe to eat?

A: The green ring around the yolk of a hard cooked egg happens because hydrogen in the egg white combines with sulfur in the yolk. Both the hydrogen and sulfur are naturally present in all eggs. A green-blue usually forms because the eggs are boiled too hard for too long. The formation of a green ring can also be caused by a high amount of iron in the cooking water. The greenish ring is harmless and safe to eat. To avoid green eggs, try hard cooking (not hard boiling) eggs, as follows:

  1. Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan. Add cold tap water to cover by at least 1 inch above the eggs.
  2. Place the pan on the stove and bring to a boil.
  3. Turn off the burner. (You can leave the pan on the burner, just make sure it’s turned completely off.)
  4. Let stand for 15 minutes for large eggs (12 minutes for medium eggs and 18 minutes for extra large eggs).
  5. Drain. Immediately run cold water over the eggs to stop the cooking process.
  6. Store hard cooked eggs in the refrigerator and use within 1 week.

I’ve noticed a green tinge on the sliced ham I just bought? Is this safe?

pen-colony A: A greenish or yellowish cast on cured meats such as ham can be perfectly normal. We notice the greenish cast, often appearing as an iridescent sheen, due to the way light is reflected from the fat on the surface of the meat. Wrapping the meat in airtight packages and storing it away from light will help prevent this. The greenish or yellowish tinge is not a sign of spoilage or poor quality, unless the greenish color is accompanied by fuzzy growth (at right).  So yes, it’s generally perfectly safe to eat greenish ham.

So, Dr. Seuss was right. Green eggs and ham can be both tasty and safe to eat.  Stay food-safe. Barb



Safe & Healthy: Be sure to follow directions!

Barber-Kiev_406x250The food that we buy in the grocery store or raise in our gardens isn’t sterile (completely free of microorganisms). It isn’t supposed to be! Microorganisms are part of our natural environment, and many of these microorganisms are harmless. Some microorganism, however, are capable of causing disease.  How consumers handle, store, and prepare food is a large part of keeping families food-safe.

An important part of preparing safe food for family and friends can be reading and following package directions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported on July 8, 2015 that officials in Minnesota and those at the USDA were investigating two outbreaks of Salmonella infections linked to raw, frozen, breaded and pre-browned stuffed chicken entrees. To date, seven people have gotten sick, and four of those have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

As a result of the first outbreak investigation, on July 2, 2015, Barber Foods recalled approximately 58,320 pounds of Chicken Kiev because it may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis. The product subject to recall includes a 2 lb.-4 oz. box containing six individually pouched pieces of “Barber Foods Premium Entrees Breaded-Boneless Raw Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Rib Meat Kiev” with use by/sell by dates of April 28, 2016, May 20, 2016, and July 21, 2016. The product was available for purchase at Sam’s Club retail stores in Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

The second outbreak has been linked to Antioch Farms brand Cordon Bleu raw stuffed chicken breast. This investigation is ongoing.

In the short term, consumers should check their freezers for recalled Barber Foods brand Chicken Kiev. Consumers should not eat the product, but should return it to the place of purchase or contact Barber Foods directly at 844-564-5555.

Consumers who purchase raw, frozen, breaded and pre-browned, stuffed chicken products, regardless of brand, should always handle them safely to prevent foodborne illness:

  • Read the package carefully. Look for words like”Raw” or “Uncooked” to determine if the product is raw.
    • The product may not look raw. It may appear to be pre-cooked because it may be breaded and browned.
  • Follow cooking instructions exactly as they are written on the package.
  • Use a food thermometer to check that the product has reached an internal temperature of 165° F, checking at the center, the thickest part, and the surface of the product.
    • Color is NOT a reliable indicator that poultry has been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Clean and disinfect any surfaces and utensils that touched the raw product, including the product packaging or breading that falls off.
  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling the raw product.
  • Keep raw poultry away from other food that will not be cooked.

Be sure to follow package directions to help keep your family food-safe. Barb

Safe & Healthy: What’s all the fuss about Listeria?

BlueBellLarge food recalls have recently forced consumers to throw away foods such as ice cream and hummus because of contamination with the potentially deadly bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Tainted Blue Bell ice cream products have been linked to eight listeria illnesses in Kansas and Texas; three patients in a Kansas hospital who contracted the illness died as a result. In May, Blue Bell laid off 37% of its workforce at plants in four states as the company tried to cope with a nationwide recall of all of its products.

And on April 8, Sabra Dipping Co. announced a recall of 30,000 cases of its Classic Hummus due to possible listeria contamination, though no illnesses have been linked to that recall. These recalls follow other nationwide recalls of cantaloupe, sprouts, and other products due to possible contamination with Listeria.

What is Listeria and why is it considered an important foodborne pathogen? Listeria is a hardy bacteria found in soil and water, and it can be carried by animals. It can contaminate a processing facility and stay there for a long period of time, and it can grow in the cold temperature of a refrigerator. It is commonly found in unpasteurized milk, and it is sometimes found in other foods as well — 30 people died from listeriosis in 2011 linked to Listeria-contaminated cantaloupe. About 1,600 people in the United States get sick from Listeria each year.

What are the symptoms of illness caused by Listeria? When a person contacts the disease (listeriosis), it can cause fever, muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhea, and even death. Listeria is particularly deadly to pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. Listeria is the third leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the United States.

What is a person to do if they have contaminated food in their home? The government’s motto is “when in doubt, throw it out.” If you throw something away that you think might be tainted, place it in a closed plastic bag in a sealed trash can to prevent animals or other people from eating it. Some grocery stores may offer a refund if you purchased potentially contaminated product.

How does a person protect themselves from the illness listeriosis? In the case of the ice cream and hummus recalls, there is nothing you can do to prevent it — just throw away the food if you learn they have been recalled. If a fruit or vegetable is contaminated, scrubbing with a brush under clear running water is never a bad idea, but it may not rid produce of all contaminants. In the case of the cantaloupe, the Listeria likely hid on the fruit’s thick, rough skin. Some foods such as meat or milk can be rendered safe if fully cooked; heating to an internal temperature of 165°F or higher.

For more information, visit these resources:

Stay safe and healthy by contacting your local University of Wisconsin-Extension office with any questions. Barb

Safe Preserving: Safe Changes when Making Pickles and Relishes

easy-pickles-ck-1646440-xThe safety of the food that you preserve is important to you. The University of Wisconsin-Extension supports using up-to-date, research-tested recipes so that you know that the food that you preserve is both safe and high in quality. Here are a few quick tips on changes and substitutions that will keep your home preserved pickles and relishes safe to eat.

Homemade Pickles & Relishes. One of the fastest growing areas of the food industry is in pickled products. The time is now to try making some of these tasty products yourself! Pickles are processed in a boiling water or steam canner.

  • You may safely reduce sugar or salt in any tested quick-process pickle. The amount (and type) of salt listed in a recipe for sauerkraut or genuine dill (crock) pickles can not be changed!
  • You can rinse sauerkraut prior to serving and reduce the amount of sodium by 30-40%. Never change the type or amount of salt in a fermented product like genuine dill pickles or sauerkraut.
  • You may safely substitute grocery store cider vinegar (5% acetic acid) for white vinegar (5% acetic acid), and vice versa. Do not use other types of vinegar such as wine vinegar or homemade vinegar.
  • You may add a clove of garlic or a small dried hot pepper to any pickle recipe without impacting the processing time.
  • You may substitute zucchini or summer squash for cucumber in any relish recipe. You may substitute English or grocery store cucumbers for pickling cucumbers, but the quality of the product may be inferior.
  • You may refrigerate a pickle recipe that can’t be safely canned. If refrigerated, store for up to 2 weeks. See Homemade Pickles and Relishes for recipes for refrigerator or freezer pickles that are a tasty treat. This bulletin also contains recipes for low-sodium, and low- or no-sugar added pickles.

Research tested recipes for tasty homemade pickles and relishes can be found in the University of Wisconsin Extension publication Homemade Pickles and Relishes. And the best (ever) procedure for making sauerkraut can be found in Make Your Own Sauerkraut also from the University of Wisconsin Extension.

A full list of safe changes and substitutions is available from the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Safe preserving! Barb

University of Wisconsin-Extension

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