Homestead, Pressure Canning

How I Almost Killed my Family: Canning Safety



Yep, it’s true….  Fortunately, I was not successful!

A few weeks ago we celebrated our daughter’s confirmation.  I made soup and sandwiches for our guests.  Italian Sausage and Ham and Potato.  I am not one to hold tight to a guest list so I never really know how many people I’ll have when we host an event.  Because of this, I like to be sure we won’t be short on food and always be sure to have extra on hand.

Once the guests left and the kitchen was cleaned up, I had several quarts of soup remaining.  Even though I knew we would finish it off within the next week, I thought that I would pressure can it.  How nice would it be to go to the pantry and have home-cooked soup ready to go, especially with winter on its way!



I prepped my jars, lids, and canner.  Heated the soup to boiling, filled the jars, wiped the tops of the jars, placed the lids and bands and settled in to count jiggles for the next 90 minutes.  I was feeling rather satisfied and patting myself on the back for pulling off a nice event with good food, had a clean kitchen and was doing a bit of preserving as well.

And then.

I decided to hop on the computer.

Double check my processing times and, well, maybe even write about it.

There it was.

Do not pressure can food thickened with flour.

Do not pressure can thickened foods period.

Do not pressure can food items that do not have specific, individual pressure canning instructions.

Ham & Potato Soup: Thickened

No specific instructions for:  Spinach, zucchini, cured ham

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!  Crap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


My husband popped into the kitchen about this time.  He decided that this was my attempt to take him out 😉  Ha!  So I really did have something to write about after all!



Clostridium botulinum is a bacteria that is found in many places in our environment.  It is rarely harmful in its natural state.  Under poor conditions, the bacteria produce spores, a protective coating that allow the bacteria to survive in conditions that would otherwise kill it.  The bacteria can survive for years in this state.  The spores do not cause problems by themselves and can even be ingested without problems.  When the bacteria are active, they can produce neurotoxins in certain environments.  These neurotoxins can kill with microscopic amounts and are the cause of Botulism.

Environments that allow the bacteria to flourish are:

  • Low acid
  • Low oxygen or no oxygen (anaerobic)
  • Low salt
  • Low sugar

These environments can often be found in canned or fermented foods.

The neurotoxins cause muscle paralysis and respiratory failure.  The neurotoxins bind to nerve endings, interrupting signals to muscles and result in paralysis.  Symptoms of botulism look similar to symptoms of stroke, except that deficits will not be limited to one side of the body.


  • A thick-feeling tongue, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech
  • Blurred or double vision and drooping eyelids
  • Muscle weakness

The symptoms can occur as soon as six hours after ingesting the food or up to 10 days later but usually within 18-36 hours after consuming contaminated food.  If untreated, the symptoms will progress and cause paralysis in the skeletal muscles.  This will result in respiratory failure as those muscles are affected by the neurotoxin.

Fortunately, Botulism rarely occurs.  In 2015, there were 15 cases of laboratory-confirmed foodborne botulism that were reported to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Botulism can be prevented by:

  • Following the USDA recommendations for canning.  Select the proper method of canning (pressure or water bath) based on the food you are canning.  Do not modify ingredients as this can alter the level of acidity.  Ensure you follow the pounds of pressure recommended, as well as the length of time for processing.  Be aware that the altitude at which you are doing your canning will impact the length of time food should be processed.
  • Double bag and discard any canned goods that appear swollen, gassy or bubbly, or spoiled.  Place outside the home and keep it out of reach of pets or people.
  • Boil home-canned foods for 10 minutes prior to eating.  Boiling kills the toxin.
  • Be sure to refrigerate foods within 2 hours of cooking.  If the air temperature is above 90 degrees, the food should be refrigerated within one hour.
  • Select appropriate canning techniques for food.  All low-acid foods must be pressure canned.  Clostridium bacteria spores cannot survive the temperatures reached in a pressure canner.  Be sure to review the USDA recommendations when evaluating recipes that you find on the internet or are handed-down to you to verify the correct canning technique.


In summary, home canning is a great way to preserve foods without the use of refrigeration or freezing.  It is very low risk and helps you to save foods that might otherwise perish and allow you to enjoy them year round.  Following recommended guidelines will help you and your family remain safe.  Please consult your local extension office for additional information.



Additional Resources:

Disclosure:  Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.  This helps to cover some of the expense of hosting and managing this website.

A Pint of Murder (The Madoc and Janet Rhys Mysteries Book 1) Kindle Edition

Bubble Tea Botulism: An Amanda Cute Case File Kindle Edition

 National Center for Home Food Preservation

GIANTmicrobes Botox (Clostridium Botulinum) Plush Toy

Food Safety in the 21st Century: Public Health Perspective

Food Safety Tips: Shopping – Handling – Cooking – Storing (Kitchen Savvy Collection)



“Botulism.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Oct. 2017,

“Botulism.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization,

“Clostridium Botulinum (Botulism).” Clostridium Botulinum (Botulism) Food Poisoning,

“Clostridium Botulinum.” Clostridium Botulinum,

LaMotte, Sandee. “What Is Botulism, and How Does It Kill?” CNN, Cable News Network, 13 June 2017,

10 thoughts on “How I Almost Killed my Family: Canning Safety”

  1. I recently opened a can of stewed tomatoes that clearly was not safe to eat. The smell alone would prevent anyone from putting it in their mouth. I dumped it down the drain and turned on the garbage disposal to rid the tomatoes. I had to follow with a couple oranges to get rid of the stench. I put Dawn in the jar with water to let it soak – low and behold! Something started to grow in the jar of Dawn water. I took a picture and sent to a Science teacher at our local High School, he wasn’t interested. I’m so glad that the stench was/is an indication to notboit my family in danger. After reading this, I wish I would have known to dispose of it differently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jacki, do you still have the pics? I think the extension office might be interested in that or provide information about what grew! Interesting that it grew in a medium of soap! Since botulinum grews in aneorobic environments, I would assume that wasn’t what grew after it was opened.


  2. I love to can! I haven’t gotten into soups and stews very much, though, and when I did, I just followed a recipe from an extension-approved booklet. Whew! There are really quite a few recipes that I found in there, and did chili and vegetable soup. I found that our family wasn’t very interested in eating them, though, so never did it again. This gives me inspiration that maybe I should try it again. Some pint jars of soups might come in handy:)


    1. Happy to provide the inspiration! I find it convenient to grab something out of the pantry that’s ready to go, especially when I’m in the middle of a project. I’m not a very good planner so between the crock pot and canning, I usually can put together something healthy without too much forethought!


  3. I am terrified to can! I grew up on home canned foods and we never had an issue, but I am so, so nervous to do it myself! Especially now that I have a young child. I’ve never graduated passed jams because of this fear, but maybe…MAYBE, I’ll give tomatoes a try next fall. Maybe.


  4. I have a question on hot bath cooking for corn. It was brought to my attention after I had hot bathed 20 quarts of fresh corn that that is one food that definitely needs to be pressure cooked. I have always pressure cooked my corn, but yesterday after 3 batches of salsa and pickles beets, hot bath pots were out so I just went with the flow. My question is – can I hot bath sealed quart jars or should I pop them, add more water and – can I use the same lid? Investors been searching the internet and I’m not finding much. My alternative, which is the route I may go to be safe, would be to freeze them. Just dump the jar into a freezer bag. My corn already has the water and salt added, went through the hot bath, so blanched/cooked. What are your thoughts?


    1. Jacki – Great job on all the canning you’ve done!! Yes, low acid foods need to be pressure canned and your question is a tough one. The best I can offer is that you contact your local Extension office for an answer. My assumption would be that you would need to pop the lids and bring the corn back up to temperature for at least 20 minutes to kill any bacteria that have developed and then reprocess but again, would refer you to the Extension office. They provide guidance based on food safety research. Let me know what you learn!


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