Brian A. Nummer, Ph.D.
National Center for Home Food Preservation
The holiday season is one of gift-giving. Many home food preservers choose to provide their friends and relatives handcrafted foods preserved in their home. This is a great idea, but the gift giver and gift receiver both should know a little about food safety.
Ensuring Safe Canned Foods
Growth of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum in canned food may cause botulism—a deadly form of food poisoning. These bacteria exist either as spores or as vegetative cells. The spores, which are comparable to plant seeds, can survive harmlessly in soil and water for many years. When ideal conditions exist for growth, the spores produce vegetative cells that multiply rapidly and may produce a deadly toxin in an environment consisting of a moist, low-acid food, at a temperature between 40°F and 120°F, with less than 2 percent oxygen.
Whether food should be processed in a pressure canner or boiling water canner to control botulinum bacteria depends on the acidity of the food. Acidity may be natural, as in most fruits, or added, as in pickled food. Low-acid canned foods are not acidic enough to prevent the growth of these bacteria. Acid foods contain enough acid to block their growth, or destroy them more rapidly when heated. Because of the risks involved with botulism-causing bacteria in foods, the USDA, University-based Cooperative Extension System, and the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recommend only research-based, tested recipes.
Read more on ensuring safe canned foods: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/general/ensuring_safe_canned_foods.html.
Common gifts NOT recommended for canning:
Herbs or vegetables in oil or oil infusions. Read: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/questions/FAQ_canning.html#31. Instead, choose to make flavored vinegars (See below).
Canned breads. Read: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/uga_can_breads.pdf. Instead, package completely dry cake recipe ingredients as gifts and provide mixing and baking instructions. Read: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/dry/pack_store.html.
Canned chocolate sauces/ fudge sauces. Many of the recipes that are passed along are low acid, contain dairy products, and recommend boiling water processing. The NCHFP, USDA or its partners in the land-grant university-based Cooperative Extension System do not have safe tested recipes for these products.
Canned gifts made in decorative, untested, jars. The temptation to package holiday canned foods in special decorative jars is not recommended. Only use recommended jars and lids. Read: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/general/recomm_jars_lids.html
There are many other recipes that are not recommended. Choose only safe, tested recipes from research-based resources such as the NCHFP, USDA or the land-grant university-based Cooperative Extension System.
Keep in mind that some recipes, such as those above, are safe only if kept refrigerated or frozen. Most refrigerated foods can only safely be kept out of refrigeration for a very short period of time (usually less than 2 hours). Labels should tell the recipient to refrigerate. Likewise, frozen foods should not be allowed to thaw. These facts should be taken into consideration when choosing to give a refrigerated or frozen preserved food as a gift.
We suggest you clearly label the contents of your gift. We encourage you to include:
It’s never too early
May is the month to think about what gifts to make in your kitchen. It’s never too early to make plans for your holiday needs. As the harvests come in, you will have plans for your bounty. If you are like almost everyone else, you waited until November to think about holiday gifts. So here are a few ideas that can be made from late season or all season ingredients.
Always choose only safe, tested recipes from research-based resources such as the NCHFP, USDA or University-based Cooperative Extension System. Follow directions as stated and do not alter ingredients or processing procedures. Save your creativity for your holiday packaging.
Brian A. Nummer is Project Coordinator with the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Department of Foods and Nutrition, College of Family and Consumer Sciences and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Food Science and Technology, The University of Georgia, Athens.
This material is based upon work supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 00-51110-9762.
Permission is granted to reproduce these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of reproduction) provided the authors and the University of Georgia receive acknowledgment and this notice is included:
Reprinted with permission of the University of Georgia. B. Nummer. 2002. Resources for Making Jellied Fruit Problems. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension Service.
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National Center for Home Food Preservation
208 Hoke Smith Annex
The University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602-4356
Tel: (706) 542-3773
Fax: (706) 542-1979