Safe Preserving: What to do when a trip to NYC is cancelled?

beetsWhat is any self-respecting person to do when a weekend trip to New York City with her twin sister and daughter is suddenly cancelled?…Why canning beets, of course!  My daughter and I were scheduled to spend a weekend in NYC with my twin sister, sightseeing and shopping prior to the start of the fall semester.  Our flight was first delayed and then cancelled, so we ended up not traveling. I used the time at home to can the 35 (+) pounds of beets that my husband harvested from our garden.

It’s been a great growing season in Wisconsin.  Our potatoes are harvested and in storage. We have been enjoying almost more tomatoes than we can eat, the zucchini is too plentiful (as always), and the kale has been delicious.  In my family we are eating green beans at most every meal and I plan to can green beans this coming weekend.  The carrots are still in the ground, but those will be harvested soon. In short, a great summer in Wisconsin!

I had never canned beets before and I wanted to share the few things I learned along the way.

1. Beets are a low-acid food. If you can beets in water, then you must use a pressure canner. (Pickled beets are canned in a boiling water canner.) There are two types of pressure canners, a dial gauge and a weighted gauge canner. If you use a dial gauge, like I did, be sure to have the gauge tested to make sure it is accurate before using the canner. Most county Extension offices in Wisconsin test canner gauges.

2. Beets are cooked prior to filling in the jar. Because beets have such a firm texture, they must be cooked, or partially cooked, prior to placing them in the jar. After cooking, slip the skins off, remove the tops and root, and slice, cut into wedges, or, for small beets, can them whole.

3. Fill prepared standard canning jars with beets, then add boiling hot water to 1″ headspace.  Even though I worked quickly, the beets I was processing cooled down a good bit as I was removing the skins and preparing them for the jars. I kept my jars hot in a Nesco roaster and added very hot water to the jars; this helped warm the beets up so they started the process off right. You can add salt to each jar, if desired. We use 1″ headspace for low-acid meats and vegetables, 1/2″ headspace for pickled products, salsas and the like, and 1/4″ headspace for jams and jellies.

4. Place a standard 2-piece canning lid on the jar; the band is tightened finger-tip tight. In home canning the air needs to escape from the jars during the canning process, so the bands are tightened only finger-tip tight. If you tighten the lids too much, you risk jar breakage and possible spoilage later.

5. Place filled jars on a rack in a canner with ~2″ of very hot water in the base. Place the lid on the canner, turn the heat on high, and wait for the canner to vent for 10 full minutes. Venting is important since it removes air from the canner. Air trapped in the canner may interfere with heat transfer and your canner may fail to pressurize or your product may be underprocessed (and unsafe).

6. After venting, seal the vent port and allow the canner to pressurize. I canned beets in pint jars so the process time was 30 minutes (at 11 psi) at my elevation (under 1,000 feet). Always adjust processing for elevation, as needed.

At the end of the processing time, turn off the heat and allow the canner to cool naturally. The cooling process is an important part in the overall lethality of the canning process.  Once the canner depressurizes, remove the jars and allow them to cool on the counter. During the winter, I hope to enjoy plain cooked beets, and I might even pickle some of the beets prior to serving them to my family. Safe preserving! Barb

Safe & Healthy: Salmonella in Spices

krogerTwo recent news stories highlighted the need to talk about the increasing link between spices that we might find in our kitchens and foodborne illness.  On Wednesday, July 29, 2016, Kroger stores in 31 states recalled store-brand ground cinnamon, course ground black pepper, Bac’n Buds, and garlic powder due to possible contamination with Salmonella.  

A sample of Kroger Garlic Powder from a store in North Augusta, South Carolina was tested by the FDA and found to be contaminated with Salmonella. To date, no illnesses have been reported in connection with these products, however, all four seasonings produced on the same equipment in the same facility have been recalled. More information can be found on the FDA web site.

Also between December 2014 and July 2015, Sweden reported 174 cases of salmonellosis linked to a contaminated spice mix. Contaminated products have been linked to several suppliers, and may have been imported into countries other than Sweden.

Thorough cooking will render the spices safe to consume, but spices may be applied as a topping or used in a dish that isn’t cooked. A previous blog post also highlighted this issue. Stay food safe, Barb

Safe Preserving: Canning Mixtures

beef stewWhen our gardens are overflowing with many types of vegetables, it’s tempting to think of canning these vegetables together as mixtures. Take care, there are certain precautions to take when canning vegetable or vegetable/meat mixtures.

There are a few tested recipes that are a great place to start when planning to can vegetable mixtures. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a recipe for mixed vegetables: carrots, corn, green and lima beans, tomatoes and zucchini that may be canned in pint or quart jars. There is also a tested recipe for meat and vegetable soup.  Caution noted at the meat/vegetable soup instructions: Fill jars halfway (only) with solid mixture. Add remaining liquid, leaving 1-inch headspace. Make only those changes allowed in these 2 tested recipes.

If you are thinking of canning other mixtures, combine only those items that have tested canning instructions. Consult the canning times for each vegetable (or meat item) separately, then choose the longest processing time as the time for the mixture. If canning times don’t exist, such as for celery or wild mushrooms, then we don’t recommend including that item in the mixture.  You can quickly saute mushrooms or celery to add to a mixture as you prepare the dish for the table. Also be aware of any restrictions on jar sizes in individual recipes as you choose the processing time.

Do not add flour, rice, potatoes, pasta or other ingredient that will thicken a mixture prior to canning. Thickening a mixture will interfere with heat transfer and a very unsafe product may result.  If you wish, thicken a canned mixture as you heat it prior to serving.

And remember, you’ll have much higher quality product if you can mixtures with similar processing times.  Consider the canning time for a mixture of carrots (30 minutes); corn (85 minutes); green peas (40 minutes); onions (40 minutes) and potatoes (40 minutes) in quart jars. This mixture must be canned 85 minutes, by which time some of the vegetables will be severely over-processed. Leaving out the corn will drop the processing time to 40 minutes, with higher quality results. Adding meat to the mixture (beef or chicken) will lengthen the processing time by 5 minutes, to 90 minutes for quart-size jars.

There are times when canning a mixture just don’t make sense because the individual vegetables have very different harvest times.  Harvesting peas in June and holding them (refrigerated) until August when corn and potatoes are harvested will result in a poor quality mixture as the peas turn starchy and lose nutrients during storage.

Instead of canning mixtures, I prefer to can individual vegetables (in pint-size jars). This allows me to harvest vegetables as their peak and avoid over-processing. When it’s time to make a meal, I combine a variety of pint jars to create the basis for a casserole, soup, or stew. The dish is very flavorful because I can use canning liquid, rather than water, to create the base for my soup or stew, and I have maximum flexibility in meeting dietary preferences of my family and friends. Safe preserving, Barb

Safe Preserving: Time to Make Pickles

genuine_dillsThe garden is ready, time to make pickles! Many vegetables can be pickled, with flavorful results. And pickling low-acid vegetables like green beans and cucumbers allow these products to be canned quickly and easily in a boiling water or  steam canner. Pickling may seem to be a rather mysterious process, with complex steps and unusual ingredients, but if you remember to use high quality ingredients and follow a tested recipe, you can make high quality pickles every time.

There are two basic types of pickles, fermented (or crock) pickles and fresh pack or quick process pickles.

  • Fermented pickles, also called crock pickles, are produced by fermenting cucumbers, or other vegetables, in salt brine for several weeks. During the fermentation, bacteria convert sugars naturally in the vegetables into lactic acid. Lactic acid preserves the pickles and gives them their characteristic tangy flavor. Genuine dill pickles and sauerkraut are both fermented products.
  • Fresh pack or quick process pickles are not fermented. Instead, the acid necessary to preserve this product is added in the form of a ‘pickling solution’ of vinegar and spices. Sugar may also be added. Popular pickles such as bread-and-butter, and fresh pack dill are examples of this type of pickle. Also in this category are fruit pickles and relishes.

Select fresh, firm, high quality vegetables and fruits for pickling. The highest quality pickles will be prepared from:

  • Pickling cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers of 1 to 2 inches make good gherkins, while pickles are more commonly made from cucumbers that are 3 to 5 inches long. You can leave them whole, or slice them lengthwise into spears or crosswise into slices or chunks. Cucumbers longer than 5 inches are best chopped and made into relish. Wax coated cucumbers brought from the grocery store are not suitable for pickling. [And remember, you can safely substitute zucchini or summer squash for cucumbers in any pickle recipe; relish recipes work best.]
  • Softened water. Hard water contains minerals that may cloud the pickle brine, or cause off-flavors or discoloration. You can soften hard water by boiling for 15 minutes in a large kettle. Allow the boiled water to stand for 24 hours, and pour off the water, leaving the sediment behind.
  • Vinegar. White vinegar is most often recommended in pickles. Use only standard commercial vinegar of 5% acetic acid. Do not use homemade vinegar. Cider vinegar may be a good choice for some pickles, but it does darken most fruits and vegetables. Never dilute vinegar, or alter the amount of vinegar in recipes, an unsafe product may result.
  • Use pure canning and pickling salt for the highest quality pickles. Table salt contains anti-caking agents that will cloud pickle brine, and is not recommended. Ice cream salt, rock salt and solar salt should not be used for pickles. These salts may contain impurities that may make pickles unsafe. pickled+crabapples
  • Sugar and spices. Either white or brown sugar can be used in pickle recipes, depending on your preference. Sugar substitutes are not recommended and will not produce a high quality product. Most pickle recipes call for whole spices for fresher and more concentrated flavor. Powdered spices will also cloud pickle brine and produce a less desirable product.

Many of us can remember our mother or grandmother adding lime or alum to create firm, crisp pickles. But firming agents such as lime or alum are no longer recommended in pickle processing. Pickling lime, if not used properly, can make pickles unsafe to consume. Pickling lime can only be used as an initial soak for fresh cucumbers, and excess lime must be thoroughly removed by rinsing. Alum is no longer recommended because the aluminum in this product may be unsafe to consume.

Here are a few tips for making firm cucumber pickles without relying on unsafe ingredients:

  • Process cucumbers within 24 hours of harvest. Cucumbers deteriorate rapidly, and if stored too long will not make a quality product.
  • Gently wash cucumbers before processing. Soil, especially that trapped near the stem, can harbor bacteria that may cause softening in pickles.
  • Remove a thin slice, 1/16th inch, from the blossom end of each cucumber. The enzymes that cause softening are concentrated in the blossom end, and discarding a thin slice will help to keep pickles firm.
  • Soak fresh cucumbers in ice water for 4 to 5 hours before pickling.
  • Follow a tested recipe, and heat process pickles for the correct length of time.

Now is a good time to update family-favorite recipes so your family has safe, high quality pickles to enjoy all winter. Safe preserving! Barb

Safe Preserving: Time-Saving Tips

Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you are like me, the summer is a time when you have two full-time jobs. One of my jobs is as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the other is as a gardener and food processor.  At nights and on the weekends, I am either working in the garden or processing the bounty of the harvest.  Here are a few quick tips to try and help you manage all the work that goes into keeping up with the bounty of the summer:

1. Gather, and test, equipment as early in the season as possible. You don’t want to find yourself with a pressure canner that doesn’t work when the canner is on the stove full of pint jars of green bean. [I always advocate starting the season by canning….water! You don’t even need to use jars. Place ~3 inches of water in your pressure canner, seal the canner, and place the canner on the stove over high heat. Make sure the canner vents properly. Once vented (for 10 minutes), seal the vent port, and make sure the canner comes up to pressure.  Once up to pressure, turn off the heat and allow the canner to cool. This whole process will take about 30 minutes and can save a lot of headaches later.] Check with your local University of Wisconsin-Extension county office to have your dial-gauge pressure canner tested before use, and for answers to your home canning questions. The UW-Extension office is also a great place to learn about guidelines for use of the new steam canner and for research-tested recipes for boiling water and pressure canning. UW-Extension recommends standard home-canning jars and 2-piece lids for canning.  Lids should be stored in a cool, dry location and used within 3 years of purchase.

2. Break a job into smaller tasks. Sometimes the preparation work takes most of the day. Chopping or dicing vegetables or fruits for salsas or relish, trimming green beans for canning, peeling and quartering tomatoes – all of these tasks can take time, especially if you have a bountiful harvest. Since I usually hot-pack product, I tend to reserve one day (usually Saturday) for food preparation, and then do my canning on Sunday or on week-day evenings. So, on Saturday, I may harvest the last of the ripe tomatoes, and bring them inside and add them to the others that have accumulated over the week. I like to can Crushed, hot pack tomatoes so I sort the tomatoes, dip them in water so that I can slip off the skins, and either stop there, or quarter them and stew them up.  I refrigerate the prepared tomatoes overnight. On Sunday, I heat the crushed tomatoes to a boil, boil gently and can. This same process works great for pickle and relish recipes that are hot-packed. For instance, on a recent Saturday I prepared diced vegetables for zesty zucchini relish and placed the salted vegetables in the refrigerator. Then on Monday night after work all I had to do was drain the vegetables, heat them in a vinegar brine, and can! The vegetables were held for a day longer than necessary, but this is safe as long as they are kept refrigerated.

3. Process the most perishable items first. Some items are so perishable that they just can’t wait to be processed.  The best examples are corn, sweet peas, and cucumbers. Each of these items will loose quality rapidly once harvested. So, if your aim is high quality canned product, don’t delay. Consider planning your work so that you move from the garden (or farm market) into the kitchen and process these products without delay.

4. Consider various methods of preservation. Depending on your volume and the amount of storage space you have available, you may wish to preserve the bounty of your harvest using several different methods. For instance, I plan on canning most of my tomatoes; the ones that exceed our ability to eat fresh. But, sometimes there is another part of the harvest that won’t make a canner load. These tomatoes I might dehydrate, stew-up and freeze, or roast in the oven with coarse salt and olive oil and freeze to add to pasta or pizza. Having a variety of food preservation methods available will add variety to your family’s meals. tomatoes

5. Take time to savor the season. With the rush to preserve the quality of the harvest, we may forget to take the time to actually enjoy the bounty of Wisconsin in the summer.  So, be sure to take some time to relax and sit down with a plate of perfectly ripe tomatoes. It’s a memory that you’ll want to return to in the dead of winter!  Safe preserving, Barb

Safe Preserving: Largest botulism outbreak in 40 years

Image courtesy of Food Safety News.

Image courtesy of Food Safety News.

The Centers for Disease Control has issued a report on the largest botulism outbreak in the United States in 40 yearsOn April 19, 2015 a church in Lancaster, Ohio held a widely attended potluck luncheon at which potato salad containing home-canned potatoes was one item served. One woman died of respiratory failure linked to botulism poisoning two days after the event, and 29 other individuals were confirmed as having botulism associated with the outbreak.

Patients ranged in age from 9 to 87 years, with the majority (59%) female.   Illness began within 1 to 6 days after the potluck. Twenty-five (86%) patients received botulinum antitoxin, and 11 (38%) required endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation; no other patients died. Within 1 week of the first patient’s arrival at the emergency department, 16 patients (55%) had been discharged. Among 19 cases that were laboratory-confirmed, serum and stool specimens were positive for botulinum neurotoxin type A or Clostridium botulinum type A.

According to the investigation, the potato salad was prepared with potatoes home-canned using a boiling water canner. A boiling water canner does not generate sufficient heat to kill C. botulinum spores; a pressure canner must be used for home-canning of low-acid foods. In addition, the potatoes were not heated after removal from the can, a step that can inactivate botulinum toxin.

This was the largest botulism outbreak in the United States in nearly 40 years. In 1977, 58 cases of botulism were linked to home-canned peppers served in a Michigan restaurant. In the most recent case, early recognition of symptoms at the emergency room and a rapid, coordinated response likely saved lives, reduced illness severity, and allowed administration of the botulinal antitoxin in a reasonable time.

Botulism is a rare, but serious illness caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The bacterium is found in soil and can survive, grow, and produce toxin in a sealed jar of food. This toxin can paralyze nerves, eventually causing death. Even taking a small taste of food containing this toxin can be deadly.

Botulism is a medical emergency. A person with symptoms of foodborne botulism should seek medical care immediately. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Double vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle weakness

The Centers for Disease Control has a primer on botulism and home canning. Consumers are urged to remember to follow a research-tested recipe and to use proper equipment in working order when home canning. Safe preserving! Barb

Safe & Healthy: The Risks of Raw Milk and Raw Milk Cheese

dairyfarm2My family enjoys biking together. This past weekend we did a 25-mile loop to Paoli and Verona and back to Madison.  It was a perfect summer day, and we passed a lot of dairy farms on our route. The cows on the farms seemed contented, and so were we.  Recent results released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that milk from those cows can pose a health risk unless that milk is pasteurized.

Milk and milk products provide a wealth of nutrition benefits. But raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to you and your family. According to an analysis by the CDC, between 1993 and 2006 more than 1500 people in the United States became sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk. In addition, the CDC reported that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.

Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. This raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses.

These harmful bacteria can seriously affect the health of anyone who drinks raw milk, or eats foods made from raw milk. However, the bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to people with weakened immune systems, older adults, pregnant women, and children. In fact, the CDC analysis found that foodborne illness from raw milk especially affected children and teenagers.

What is pasteurization? Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time. First developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis.  Most milk is pasteurized at 161°F, or higher, for just 15 seconds.  The milk is very quickly heated to this temperature, and rapidly cooled, so that pasteurization results in no meaningful difference in the nutritional value of pasteurized milk compared to the raw product. Pasteurization isn’t sterilization, and pasteurized milk contains low levels of the type of nonpathogenic bacteria that can cause food spoilage, so storing your pasteurized milk in the refrigerator is still important.

The raw milk myths debunked. While pasteurization has helped provide safe, nutrient-rich milk and cheese for over 120 years, some people continue to believe that pasteurization harms milk and that raw milk is a safe healthier alternative.

Here are some common myths and proven facts about milk and pasteurization:

  • Pasteurizing milk DOES NOT cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.
  • Raw milk DOES NOT kill dangerous pathogens by itself.
  • Pasteurization DOES NOT reduce milk’s nutritional value.
  • Pasteurization DOES NOT mean that it is safe to leave milk out of the refrigerator for extended time, particularly after it has been opened.
  • Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria.
  • Pasteurization DOES save lives.

The FDA has information on the dangers of raw milk, and you can find more information on the website Real Raw Milk Facts. Stay food safe! Barb

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

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