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Prairie Fare: Recent Canned Food Recalls Put Focus on Botulism Risk

This has been the summer of botulism outbreaks.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

On my recent trip out of state, I stopped at a little shop that makes and sells a variety of canned foods. I tasted a wide range of fruit and vegetable salsas, chili sauce, jellies and jams. The products were really tasty, so I bought a couple of jars of fruit salsa to enjoy at home.

The next morning in the hotel, my husband handed me a newspaper article about a botulism outbreak. The outbreak was linked to commercially canned foods, including chili sauce, in the state we were visiting.

Yes, I read the article closely. The news article made me think about the safety of canned food, especially since it's home canning season.

Fortunately, my vision didn’t begin to blur as I read the article. Blurred and double vision are hallmark signs of botulism, one of the deadliest types of foodborne illness.

Besides vision problems, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and muscle weakness can occur 18 to 36 hours after eating foods contaminated with the toxin. Without treatment, the illness can progress from head to feet, weakening muscles and potentially paralyzing your respiratory system. Death can occur without prompt treatment.

Death by salsa is not a good way to go, I thought to myself.

Foods containing the toxin usually do not have an unusual taste or appearance. While foods improperly canned at home are most often linked with botulism outbreaks, sometimes errors can occur at commercial processing plants, too. If canned food is not properly processed, the spores of the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, are not killed and the deadly toxin can form.

This has been the summer of botulism outbreaks. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), more than 90 products with 27 different brand names were recalled in July. The foods include canned chili sauce, chili with and without beans, dog food and corned beef hash produced at the Castleberry Food Co. in Georgia.

The products are sold with a variety of brand names, including Piggly Wiggly, Food Club and Value Time. As reported on July 27, FDA investigators found potentially contaminated product still being sold in 307 out of the 3,788 stores they visited. In most cases, the products were found at smaller stores, independent grocers and convenience stores.

Numerous brands of canned French-cut green beans manufactured by Lakeside Foods, a Wisconsin company, were recalled due to inadequate processing. Sold nationwide, the green beans are marketed under a variety of names, including Food Club, Shoppers Valu and Flavorite.

Consumers have been warned to rid their shelves of products with certain UPC codes. Complete information about brand names and UPC codes are found at http://www.fda.gov/default.htm.

Consumers who have these products should dispose of them carefully without opening them. The FDA recommends that consumers double bag the cans in plastic bags and dispose of the bags with nonrecyclable trash. Retailers should follow local and state ordinances and be sure the cans are not placed in large metal trash bins or other places where people may remove them for their use or by others.

If you preserve food at home, follow proper guidelines, too. A variety of research-tested home food preservation resources, including canning information for salsa, jams, jellies and vegetables, are available online at http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/food.htm (click on “Food Preservation”).

Here’s a recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Strawberry-kiwi Jam

3 c. crushed strawberries

3 kiwi, peeled and diced

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 Tbsp. minced crystallized ginger

1 package powdered pectin

5 c. sugar

Wash canning jars and keep warm. Prepare the two-piece canning lids according to the manufacturer's directions. Combine strawberries, kiwi, lemon juice, ginger and pectin in a large saucepot. Bring quickly to a boil while stirring frequently. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute while stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process half-pints or pints in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes at altitudes from 0 to 1,000 feet, 15 minutes at 1,001 to 6,000 feet and 20 minutes at altitudes above 6,000 feet.

Makes about six half-pint jars. One tablespoon of the jam has about 30 calories, 0 grams (g) of fat and 9 g of carbohydrate.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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