The Multiple Problems Around Advice on Preserving Tomato Sauce

We’ve received multiple questions in the last several days about general safety questions – many of which were about tomato sauce and the issues of adding lemon juice or other acid.  While this post will answer that question (sort-of), it’s important to me to share the context of many answers around safety-type questions that surround canning and the Internet.

Because today’s post is a bit more serious than most, I must also say that it’s not a rant.  There is little more I like better than comments or questions – and little more I feel badly about than giving vague or generic answers. 

It’s important for me to explain why our answers on safety are generic and why we come up with them.  We’ll share this post in the future as our one-off explanation of how we come up with the answers we do and why we answer some specifically while being vague with others – and provide links to help you find answers to some of your own questions.

It took me a few years to convince my Mother that some of the recipes or techniques that she was using were considered less-than-perfectly safe.  My Mother was raised in a family that gardened, had a cold cellar and preserved as a matter of survival and sustainability. 

My Grandmother recently shared with me that when she was young every house HAD to have a garden and you wouldn’t have been able to provide for your family otherwise.  Growing and preserving food wasn’t a luxury – it was a core requirement of supplying the kitchen.  She lamented that she couldn’t find a single vegetable garden in her community today (and we found 1 farm in an 800-kilometer round trip specifically looking for farms).  A lot of the knowledge had diminished.

The 1970′s were pivotal for preserving.  A few things happened (these were not all related to each other – but you can see how significant pressure would have come to the family unit as well as our food structure):

  • The family structure was changing and more houses were becoming dependant on dual-incomes and less time existed for domesticity.
  • The economy was under tremendous pressure – gas prices soared, interest rates were massive (mortgages were 17% and higher).
  • New crops for the home garden were becoming available (there was a particular boom in heirloom varieties which, while tasty, may not have had the same acidity as ‘traditional’ varieties that people had used for years).
  • People became sick from home-produced and commercially produced preserves.  In 1971 a couple in New York City became very ill after eating commercially canned vichyssoise - he passed away while she became very ill (source is here).  A later case in 1978 became an international incident as people all over the world became sick on Alaskan Salmon that was preserved (same source).
  • Reports of people dying from botulism from home canning emerged from California.  There were many rumours on why – most revolving around the ‘fact’ that the people (I believe it was 2 deaths in total) passed away because of using heirloom tomatoes that were less acidified than typical tomatoes (you can read more about this in Putting Food By which is so valuable as a textbook/ resource more than as a cookbook).  From the research I’ve done, it appears that the tomatoes were NOT water-bathed and instead wrapped in towels to ‘seal’ (an old-world technique that some still use but is not considered safe).
  • It is amazing to me that one of the biggest celebrity Chefs in Canada has a recent cookbook that still recommends the towel method.  In other words, you’re going to hear very different things from very different people.
  • The FDA overhauled its safety standards – many of the practices that predated the 1970′s were now forbidden.  The changes were so drastic that the preserving section of “The Joy of Cooking” was one of the few (and perhaps only) chapters that has been completely re-written from its original source).

The USDA changed it’s guidelines in 1988 specifically recommending adding acid to tomato (source).  For many people who have canned tomatoes for longer than that (or have learned from those who did), this is largely unknown and asking their opinion will yield a very different answer than from someone who has been trained since that time.

There are also reports of our food changing substantially.  Reports that mass agriculture (this is based more on anecdotal evidence/opinion than fact) has produced methods and produce that have changed tremendously over the years. 

A mass-produced tomato can taste the same right across the continent even though there’s different soil, heat, sun, weather and water.  Consider that a local restaurant in Toronto (Cowbell) conducted a taste-test of produce which started with the same seeds but were grown in separate areas of the province – diners were almost 100% in agreement that 1 region produced better tasting produce in the blind-test. 

Regardless of preference, it was clear that two carrot seeds sent to two different locations did taste significantly different.  This begs the question: if mass-produced tomatoes taste the same across the continent, what changes have occured to their chemical composition to accomodate? 

Reports include that food is going through substantial changes – some of our tomatoes are far less acidic than they were 20 or 40 years ago.

Add a final complication to this whole mess: the Internet.  Consider:

  • In Italy it is still standard to preserve tomato sauce in any bottle you can get your hands on.  A friend of the family uses glass sprite bottles and ‘seals’ them with wax (highly not recommended in North America).
  • Preserving garlic in oil (typically left in the sun for weeks) is considered lethal in North America (we stopped putting a garlic clove in our oil almost 20 years ago after very real reports of botulism came out about this).  But in India, this is still made – I have no idea of the safety record.
  • In the USA, pressure canning meat and fish are endorsed by the FDA/USDA (source: NCHFP).  Two different sources in Canada have two different views (Eat Right Ontario touches on that it can be done – although doesn’t mention pressure canning – here while I have a document at home that says there’s no safe way to do this at home).  To further turn heads, meat is routinely canned with salt and no pressure in Newfoundland and most of Northern Canada.  It is a staple of the diet, people would possibly starve without it and is simeltaneously NOT something I could endorse.  It’s one accident away from certain disaster.

I’m not suggesting that guidelines are too strict – I am trying to point out that there are many sources, opinions, scientific fact and conflicting standards that  contradict each other.  People aren’t aware of how often things have changed – and how much has changed.

Sites like WellPreserved are love projects.  Next Saturday will mark 1,000 days of consecutive posting.  There are easily more than 2,500 hours of time put into this project (grand total of income from it, including gifts are around $500).  2,500 hours is the equivalent of 62.5 (based on a 40-hour week).  This doesn’t include research, cooking, buying, and time spent dreaming and obsessing.  Add vacation time and it’s easy to rack up a year-and-a-half full-time effort in creating something like this (and while so many more are worthy of note I must tip my hat to Marisa at Food In Jars who makes the scale of our project look tiny). 

But does this make me an expert?  That’s a tough question that I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer – certainly I have canned thousands of jars safely, know a lot of information on the principles, culture and safety tips around preserving.  My knowledge is largely taken from reading, teaching, attending courses and learning – but I am still not a food scientist.

This isn’t a pity party but it’s part of the necessary context to explain why I don’t feel comfortable giving you advice on safety for you and those you love.  It’s important to me that you know that I believe in everything I share with you – so much so that my friends, family and I consume the things we post about here. 

But I’m not a food scientist, major corporation or an expert in all regions, countries, techniques or ingredients.  Pretending to be that would let you down – as well as expose myself both emotionally (if something went wrong) and potentially legally.  And I can’t do that for a love project.

So, for the sake of safety, we do two things when it comes to answering questions about safety and your jars:

  • Point you to the sources who are the truest experts (and I believe that is the National Center for Home Food Preservation)
  • Recommend always to fall on the side of safety - regardless of my technique.  Yes, this means that I will recommend to do things that I may, or may not do (for such an example, here’s our article on adding lemon juice to tomatoes for a direct answer).  And when I do, it’s not ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ – it is exactly as I recommend. 

There is a gap between what I can recommend as someone who is host to a Global Community (we could have never imagined the blog, FaceBook page and community here growing as it has) such as ours and what I do personally.  I reconcile this by reasoning that I want you to be as safe as possible, do your own research and make the decision for yourself on what works for you and your family.  I do hope you’ll understand – it’s simply an extension of the fundamental rule of canning – ‘better safe than sorry.’

I’ll never make garlic pickled in oil.  I don’t believe it’s safe – further I believe it could be deadly.  I won’t recommend you ever make it.  And, as a stranger in a public forum, I would also highly recommend that you don’t consume it.  But I have no idea how I’d react if I ever have the opportunity to go to India and am offered a taste of a 100-year old recipe from a family that eats it daily and swears it’s whats made them live to 120…  I don’t even know if I’d share the experience – but I know I’d want to.  But that’s not the same as endorsing it for others – and that’s a paradox that leaves me sometimes uncomfortable.

At the end of the day, it’s important to do your research, to know that what we share here is up to standards that are tested and true (to the fullest extent of our moral and intellectual ability) and that we eat the things we share with you here.  I hope you’ll understand if you ask me for an opinion on something I haven’t made, eaten or know about that I will default to a generic safety-first answer because nothing can go wrong with that!

To wrap this explanation up, my Mother told me a few years back that she has switched to only tested recipes – mostly those found on the Internet.  I’ll never forget the look on her face (it was utter panic) when I reminded her that anyone could be an ‘instant expert’ online – including me.  We laughed a lot about it but it took that connection to realize that it’s tough to find the sources that one can trust – even if that’s sometimes your Son (or your Mom). :) 

Just to be perfectly clear; my Mom is a kick-butt preserver who rocks jars like nobodies business – without my folks, I would not be into this like I am.  I hope that comes across and doesn’t sound like I’m saying she doesn’t know what she’s talking about – because she does. The Multiple Problems Around Advice on Preserving Tomato Sauce Safety

Comments

  1. Thank you , thank you , thank you for taking the time to answer this question!
    As a newbie to canning I very much appreciate finally getting a straight answer (sort of, lol)
    It certainly clears things up for me.
    Once again I love this blog!

  2. I was just talking with a friend about her SIL who is planning on preserving tomatoes this weekend. Knowing her SIL, I gave her the link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation for tomatoes and stated that it could not be deviated from. Her SIl made gooseberry jam that not only did not set but changed color. Her SIL eats it and uses several unsafe food practices. Yet she does not connect her stomach issues with her unsafe food handling practices. None of the SIL’s friends will eat anything she makes or preserves.

    Yes, I do make a few things like Italian style eggplant pickles which are preserved in olive oil. And yes I will water bath the 3 jars I make just to seal them. But once the jars are cool to touch, I place them in the refrigerator for storage. I share two of those jars with friends who appreciate old world style eggplant pickles. And I do warn them that the pickles are technically not safe according to the guidelines. And they do store them in the refrigerator as well. But I would not share them with anyone else simply for safety’s sake. These are two friends who know and understand that the recipe is not technically safe. And since I only make enough for 3 jars, they are gone in no time.

    I was speaking with a friend of my mom’s who used to can tomatoes as recently as five years ago and still only salt to them. She had a high fail rate as well. She was surprised to hear that we now add acid to them to make them safe. And I will talk to people about food safety in the aisle at Wal-mart when I am getting jars. I may piss some one off but I always tell them to go to the National Canter for Home Food Preservation to verify that supposed safe recipe they found on the internet before spending the money and time to make the item. Better safe than sorry.

  3. Well said.

  4. Thanks so much for all your hard work! Your site is filled with great information and inspiration. I’ve learned so much and have enjoyed every (almost!) minute!

    • Marilyn,

      Thanks for taking the time to share such kind words – these types of posts really keep us going when staring at the screen and trying to figure out what to write or share! I hoe you’ll understand that I’m also tickled that you’ve enjoyed ALMOST every minute! It’s a lot of fun to share a breadth of topics that don’t appeal to all – a challenge to keep people engaged but I hope that some of our topics challenge our readers and always give credit to our community for making up their own mind. Cooking a pig’s head is going to gross some people out – just like Polenta will turn others off. :) I just love that we have a community of people who are willing to share and remain open about the posts that turn them the other way. :)

      Thanks for the comment!

      J

  5. Well said! I like your take on this and I found this article to be a needed answer for those with questions. i myself have recently returned to canning and to do so I picked up every book I possibly could afford from legitimate sources to help educate myself with the current (read: up-to-date) information. (p.s. I also scour the internet for legitimate sources too. That’s how I found you) In the end (or should say beginning as I have several pots of chutney bubbling away as I type…) I forced myself to look at this in this way (I realize it’s kinda skewed but it works in my brain): canning/pressure-canning, freezing, dehydrating, etc., are all methods for storage and not the recipes themselves. What’s in the jar itself is (to my mind) the actual preservation of the food item, either by salting/brining, sugar syrups, and acidic solutions/add-ins. I’m following the guidelines set about in “Putting Food By” (awesome book BTW! I’m on my second copy) with a strict eye on my recipes: they must taste fabulous or I’ve wasted time and energy and they must work under the PFB guidelines. And they do.

    Besides…don’t you normally put acid in your tomato sauce? Really, isn’t that part of the taste of truly great tomatoes, their acidic content, other than those wimpy things that are sold in stores? I have an extensive cooking background and every chef knows that to make things taste great, you add salt, sugar or acid. So if it doesn’t taste great then why can it?

  6. I don’t know if this is correct and I can’t find anything Googling, but I understand that it used to be safe to use garlic in oil, but that it was “re-engineered” in the U.S. for some reason (probably for size or keeping quality, or maybe to keep people from being able to propagate it at home – who knows?). Whatever else happened with the re-engineering, it also changed whatever it was in the garlic that previously allowed it to keep in oil. It’s probably safe to do it for the table and use the oil for a week, but beyond that, I wouldn’t risk it. In India, they are probably still using the older variety of garlic, which is why they aren’t dropping like flies. I’m not a rabid opponent of genetic food modification, but the Law of Unintended Consequences operates there just as it does everywhere, and here’s a prime example.

  7. Wait…my last comment sounded kind of flip, and I certainly didn’t mean it that way. what I really meant was if it doesn’t taste like a wonderfully acidic, vine-ripened tomato, then why can it. Because in the dark of winter, I want my mouth to water as I open up my jars of goodies and I don’t want to worry about off-tastes, off-smells or any thing that could make me sick. I only want to think of big, beautiful flavors of summer. Thank you for being an inspiration for me.

  8. Thank you for the great information. It is so important to stress safe techniques, and just because some “instant expert blogger” posts a recipe does not mean it is safe. Come on, people, research, research, research!

    I just purchased a pressure canner because I wanted to expand beyond the BWB pickles, jams, etc. Before I put anything in that jar, I want to make sure I know how to do it properly and safely (and deliciously!). I do have to say, though, that when I read Putting Food By it scared the crap out of me and almost stopped me from canning because I was sure I would die! NCfHFP has a much more sane (imo) approach.

    Thanks for being a great resource. I enjoy your site a great deal, and appreciate your wise approach. Keep up the good work!

  9. Joel, having pressed the publish button on my fair share (but nothing compared to yours and Dana’s) of recipes, many for preserving I understand entirely where you’re coming from. The problem is I’m not sure we’re necessarily helping or being honest with our readers by repeating these strictest of safety recommendations. I’m not sure that all of canning really does derive from the “better safe than sorry” rule.

    Here’s a theoretical situation to illustrate what I mean:

    A theoretical CDC study shows one’s chances of becoming ill when eating a can of tomato sauce produced in a regulated, Canadian or US plant was .01% and the number for a home-canned jar of tomato sauce was .02%.

    I have made those numbers up but I don’t think, having read the report on food-related botulism between 1990 – 2000, how small a percentage of home-canned food contributes to our total consumption, and given the chances for error, and the effects of regulation they are beyond reasonable.

    If that were the case I know I would not stop canning and think the same holds true for many, many people. We are (possibly) accepting greater risk in exchange for more delicious food, and the experience. The UK, where inverted jar canning is widely-practiced, is a society with a similar risk-aversion to ours and no rampant botulism. How can this be if only water-bath canning is safe?

    “Better safe than sorry” must hold a dominate position in our canning philosophy but we have to also recognise that it should be balanced by “make delicious food” and “leave as small an environmental footprint as possible.” (After all, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to boil a canner full of water.) I’m setting myself the project this preserving “off season” of finding whether there is evidence to support the USDA’s strict (and stricter than what is practiced in Europe) guidelines.

    knitplaywithfire: I’m not an expert but why would you want to seal those jars? My understanding is that it is the vacuum, anaerobic environment that botulism thrives in. It’s quite likely that in “the Old World” they would have been stored in oxygen-porous containers.

    • Veggie Delight and David,

      Totally agree with you both and is exactly what I am saying. :) Certainly people aren’t dyingin Italy or Northern Canada by using techniques that aren’t seen as safe however for me or anyone to claim that they’re safe in a public forum is just not wise practice (for I truly can’t prove it nor do I want to take the risk in ‘guessing’ it’s ok for everyone else).

      At the same token, there is a real risk. Three people are on life support in the UK right now from botulism and 8 are sick based on an unlicensed manufaturer jarring tapenade (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/09/uk-names-foods-linked-to-frances-botulism-outbreak/). Then again, we have another recall on ground Turkey in the US from a major distributor (http://www.thedailyeaston.com/wellness/cargill-issues-another-ground-turkey-recall).

      David, these conflicting guidelines and sites like ours absolutely add to the noise – I try to mimiize by pointing to a single source but there’s still apt to be confusion as people from all over the world interact with those same conflicting standards.

      This doesn’t even account for other methods like you’ve mentioned – or oven canning and other techniques practiced all over.

      My key message is that it’s important for each of us who chooses to can to invest the time and research to enable yourself to make the informed decisions that are best for you- and that we can’t do that for anyone else. :)

      J

      • It is difficult to work out what is ‘safe practice’ from ‘food at some point will kill/maim some people’. It’s nature, nature kills. Commercial practices are to minimise risk and I am not sure I agree with safe than sorry as too much caution can inadvertently lead to risk that is unseen (ergo GM for example). There are too many factors that are beyond our knowledge or control. Risk still happens, it’s life. I’d add lemon to tomatoes too, I don’t water bath, I do sterlise twice the jars.

        Being the person who writes a public blog post on it though, that is a difficult position. I think you covered it well. The preserver needs to do something that is not encouraged in our societies, which is to calculate one’s own risk to benefit ratio and decide from there.

        Frankly, cars are much more dangerous than canning tomatoes with no acid, and we use those most days because of the benefit.

  10. Great post, thank you. I’ve been trying to figure out some of the same ideas. I have yet to find any specific, scientific data on the risks associated with food preservation techniques. At times I wonder if we are over doing it. For example we know that we would save lives if people wore crash helmets in addition to buckling up their seatbelts and driving with an airbag. However, we don’t. Is processing canned peaches for 20 minutes instead of 5 minutes the same? Is adding lemon juice to tomatoes the same? Can anyone tell us how much safer it is to fill the canner full of water (1 inch above the jar line) than half way up the jar as recommended in Europe? Is there anyone/any org that can tell us those answers? Until we do, I do practice safe preserving – much to the eye-rolling of my mother who’s been canning differently but incident-free for 60 years.

  11. @ADavid, I do not want the oil leaking out when I am taking those jars to the two friends I share them with.

  12. Thanks for this wonderful post, and the great conversation it has spawned. I loved your historical context, especially your point about those who started canning before 1988 (or learned from someone who did). I learned from my husband’s grandma in the late 1970s and was utterly shocked a few years ago to hear about adding bottled lemon juice to home-canned tomato products. My solution to any older recipes or ones that I am even a little bit queasy about is to make my stuff, put it all in jars, and pop into my freezer that’s in the garage. That way I get to preserve to my heart’s content, and even put nifty stuff in my tomato sauce if I want, without worrying about poisoning my guests :) Thank you again for your labor of love here. It is great to have internet sources for ideas, even if we all end up processing our foods a little differently.

  13. I am always wanting to expand my knowledge of food safety in canning/preserving practices and I very much appreciated the respect and care with which you approached the subject yourself in the above article.

    Thank you.

    The ‘Prepper’ community often addresses the short and long term safety of home canned foods and for anyone interested I have some links to pass on (I don’t endorse what is presented as I am only still learning myself but I have watched all of these and they all had things in them I found valuable)

    The end video is gross – but deals with badly canned home product and is a rather dramatic (…as well as yucky and possibly unnecessary) view of what happens when things go very wrong in canning and storage.

    I even feared for the folks handling the food to film – it wasn’t nice to watch but was sickly fascinating.

    Sorry to spam you with videos but I did think these were interesting when I saw them.

    M.L.

    http://youtu.be/O0n8eFOMLUM (this is the scary one)

  14. so happy you tackled this joel! it’s a hard one as we as preservationist-bloggers have to reconcile the choices we make for ourselves and the information we put out there for others to use.

    even tho i too am right there along with you typing ‘safety first!’ being honest about the information – and choices – modern-day canners have to grapple with is perhaps the more significant role we can play. after all, i don’t profess to be an expert on food safety. i happen to be an info junky, it’s tru – and have read so many books on the subject i’ve stopped counting. but i would rather have peeps make their own decision than assume the role of canning queen. bleh!

    let’s examine this together, in community, so we can all be responsible for our own choices. thanks for starting the conversation!

  15. Bravo! Well written and well said, and so glad that you took the time to discuss that wiggly topic so eloquently.

  16. @wordsweneversaid, some on on two separate FB canning groups I am on asked the other day if it was safe to eat some pickles they found in her mom’s pantry dated 1999. She wanted to try them. All of us told her to toss them. She did not seem to get that they had probably gone bad. But I think we finally got through to her to toss them. A tiny bit over a year on something, maybe if I know I canned it and stored it. (Tiny bit being a month or two,) Otherwise it is tossed to be safe.

    • *nodding head*

      I would have said the same!

      When I read the article here I thought I would post some others I had also read (watched).

      One of the things that frightens me the most is that I COULD make someone ill – it is the main reason I avoided canning my own produce for so long.

      I did not have enough information from the right sources to feel I was doing it the proper way.

      I think I would rather follow a middle path myself – even if it means I may be tossing products that are still safe in favor of caution. (I believe the ladies in the videos also urged caution and common sense – the ‘when in doubt, throw it out’ mentality)

      I left a comment with one of the video ladies expressing my concern on the subject hoping that she would understand that I was truly worried about her husband eating home canned ‘something’ that was untold years old.

      What I like most about when people share what they do themselves is that it makes me want to research more and the side effect of that is that I always end up learning something new.

      Thanks to you for that as well

      My Mom once wanted to send home 10+ year old pickles and I was – kinda horrified at the thought…I was able to show her what I was reading on the subject and was pleased that she didn’t try to serve them to family/guests *shivers*

      Pickled beets from 1984 are NOT something I regard as ‘safe’…

      (Just sayin’)

      M.L.

  17. Thank you to everyoen for taking the time to add to the dialogue here – some amazing discussion and resources – it’s much appreciated!

    J

  18. Is this what you mean by pickling garlic in oil: http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/pickled_jalapenos_escabeche/ ? I have just made a batch of this. Is it unsafe?
    Thank you for your reply.
    Megan

    • Megan,

      Question 1 – I meant something different. I was referring to an Indian dish where garlic is aged in the sun covered in olive oil.

      Question 2 – I don’t know. It’s adapted from a book and don’t know of the book or what they’ve done to change it. I’ve never pickled with vinegar and olive oil so I have no relevant experience to share from. I would keep researching and not panic but see what you find out. Sorry to be so vague. :)

  19. Mary Ann Sweeney says:

    When it comes to ethnic foods and consuming them, keep in mind that the genetics in each group become used to what they are eating, whereas a ‘newbie’ may get very sick or even die. I’m thinking especially of some Phillipino friends who eat a fish and rice dish and just leave it on the counter. When my husband first tried it (when it was just made), he loved it. However, a few days later when he wanted to have some more, our host warned him not to touch it because the ‘natives’ had different digestive abilities than us. Thankfully, he listened to this advice.

    • Hi Mary Ann, thanks for the comment.

      I don’t know about the specifics of these but do know when Canadians vacation in South America they are advised to avoid the water as it can lead to unpleasantness.

      What many Canadians don’t realize is that South Americans are often given the same advice coming North.

      There used to be a term (that I beleive still exists) called “Montezuma’s Revenge” which referred to our reaction to the water. South Americans called the Candian equivelant “MacKenzie’s Revenge” (after one of our first Prime Ministers). :)

      J

  20. Thank you for takingt he time to inform us I know sometimes we think we know best but life is to short to take chances…Great Share

  21. Excellent post! A lot of people want quick easy answers and don’t have a lot of research skills (the ability to tell a quality internet canning site from a bad one). Having to decide for themselves is very time consuming and scary. But it really is the best way to determine what is right for them and their family. I worry about this stuff every time I post a canning recipe. Oh, and I’m right there with you on the Indian garlic. I might try it in India, but would never make it or recommend someone make it at home.

  22. I grew up canning with my grandma and aunts and mother and it is very confusing to know what is “right” now. I had gotten out of canning for some years and have started up again.

    What I learned then cannot be always done now. I have my mothers Kerr Canning Guide from 1958 just to reference that I haven’t lost my mind of what I learned!, Tomatoes have been a big issue with me. I didn’t water bath, but pressure canned trying to be on the safe side. Thanks for pointing out trust worthy sites to reference and for all your time!

    Suzy

  23. Thank you. I am lucky that I found you online.
    Karen

  24. I’ve returned to this post now several times and find myself referencing it in conversations in which I’m afraid Mom’s tried and true techniques may not be the best policy. Thanks for the insight and nuanced response. I have to admit to being a little put off when every recipe comes with a warning label, but would feel much worse if I put a friend’s toddler at risk. I once looked up the actual probability of botulism and could only find results from the 90′s that had a total for that year of less than 40 food related cases in the U.S. I would love to see a more current study now that canning has become so popular, but still believe the likelihood of incidents to be rare. That statistic helped me feel confident to continue my canning ventures without (undue) worry. Thanks again for your insightful post.

    • To my amazement, I heard back from the CDC today! Here’s what they said:

      “Thank you for your inquiry to CDC-INFO. In response to your request for information on the incidence of botulism , we are pleased to provide you with the following information.

      About 145 cases of botulism are reported each year in the U.S. Of these cases, from 1999 to 2008, about:
      * 15 percent are foodborne;
      * 65 percent are infant; and
      * 20 percent are wound botulism.

      Foodborne botulism is usually caused by eating foods that were canned at home. The number of cases of foodborne and infant botulism hasn’t changed much in recent years. But, there are more cases of wound botulism. This is because of the use of black-tar heroin. These cases are most common in California.”

      So that’s about 22 cases of foodborne botulism per year.

  25. Diana B says:

    Mandy, the CDC (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/botulism/clinicians/epidemiology.asp) says there are about 110 cases of botulism reported in the US annually, of which about 70% are infant botulism and about 25% of which are food-borne botulism (I think the overlap in percentages is due to the fact that a lot of infant botulism can be traced to the ingestion of corn syrup). There is data available through 1996 here: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/botulism/clinicians/epidemiology.asp (tables start on page 28). I’m not sure why there isn’t more recent data, but I’ll try emailing the CDC to find out more.

  26. I believe safety issues become more important as calorie issues become less important. In “the old days” when people died because they did not comsume enough calories, preserving food in *any* way was what kept families alive. It was much more likely to die from lack of calories (coupled with illness, etc) than from a can turned bad. It was the same with alcohol. People fed children wine because it had calories. All bad secondary effects from alcohol in growing bodies were less important. I believe the same is true today in some countries. I believe each person has to consider the benefit/risk of each preserving method in their situation and act appropiately.
    Cheers,
    Lucía

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