Saturday, June 5, 2010

Unsafe Bottled Goods

Do you bottle your own fruits, veggies or meats?
I do.

At the end of every summer I bottle enough peaches, pears, applesauce, grapejuice, jam, tomatoes and chili sauce to last me a whole year.

I obviously think it is worth it, and I have had good success, but every now and agian I'll go to restock my pantry and find some bottled goods that aren't safe to eat.

So, for those of you who don't know what to look for, here are some tips to use when deciding if bottled food is safe or not.

sealed lid

I don't have any pictures that show a good example of this, but some bottled foods will have growth or bacteria growing on the food.
Obviously this is a sign that the food is unsafe to eat.
This has only happened to me once.  What got me thinking is that it was not very noticable.
The bottle had some other issues with it, so I started looking harder and noticed a very discrete white "fuzz" growing on some of the fruit.
I picked up the bottle to look closer, and as I moved it the contents were shaken up and I could no longer see it.
Fortunately, if something is growing on your food, chances are that particular bottle will also have other signs that it is bad.

This particular bottle (on the right) is the one I was just talking about (with something growing on it).
This is a really good comparison of what cubed peaches should look like (left), to some that have gone bad (right).
Keep in mind that these two bottles were prepared at the same time, with the same peaches, and using the same equipment.

Sealed Lid:
This is the most obvious sign that something has gone wrong.
(But very hard to get a picture of it).
The bottle on the left has a correctly sealed lid, meaning that it hasn't popped up.
The bottle on the right has.

After removing your bottles from the steamer or water bath, you will set them aside and wait for them to seal.
It can take hours for each bottle to seal, and you should hear a very noticable 'pop'.

Once bottles are cooled completely, you can check to make sure that they sealed properly.
If any of the lids are still rounded in the middle, they did not seal correctly and should be refrigerated or eaten immediately.

However, this particular bottle WAS sealed when I put it away.
8 months later when I went to restock I found it had popped up.

This happens with AT LEAST one bottle per year for me.
So it is important to always make sure they are sealed before you put them away,
as well as before you eat it.

Other problems could be that it wasn't able to form a good seal because the lid of the bottle was broken, chipped, or as it was being processed pieces of fruit became stuck around the rim and broke the barrier.

However, like I just said, some bottles appear to be sealed, and then I find them with poppep up lids later.
For these cases, after I wash out the bottle, I put an 'X' on the bottom with a permanent marker.

If this happens more than once, I throw the bottle out to avoid having this same problem over and over again.
Another indication that food might be bad can be determined by the color.
The bottle on the left shows what they should look like.
The bottle on the right had a sealed lid, didn't contain any growth, and wasn't cloudy, but is obviously not as bright and 'fresh' looking as the ones on the left.

Color of food can be deceiving, especially in foods that are older.
These peaches were processed at the same time (both last year), so it was obvios to me that the ones on the left were bad.

However, discoloration, (or darkening of the fruit) is a natural process that happens over time, as shown here:

As you can see, the darker applesauce was made in 2003, as opposed to the light applesauce that was made last year in 2009.
Older food (applesauce especially) will darken more at the top of the bottle, as opposed to throughout.
This is caused by oxidation.
I usually just scoop out the top part and eat the rest.

Now, it is important to note that everything I have found online says that bottled fruit should be eaten within 12 months of being processed.
My mother and mother-in-law bottled all sorts of things and I can shamelessly say that Tate and I have both had our fill of fruits that were well over the year mark.
I've had fruit in my mother's basement that is 10 years old.
It obviously doesn't taste as good, but it definitely didn't kill me, and I don't think it was necessarily 'bad'.

I personally try not to bottle anything that will sit longer than 5 years.
Realistically, I try to keep everything down to 2 years, EXCEPT for applesauce.
Applesauce is such a pain to make that I try and get 3-5 years worth of it done all at once.

And I am not trying to say that food wont go bad.
There are bottles in my mom's basement that are unrecognizable - if they didn't have what is was written on the lid I would have had no idea (thankfully my mom doesn't read my blogs).
When grapejuice begins to look like mud, it's too old... :)

Basically what I am getting at is however long you choose to keep your food is up to you.

The last two things you can use to determine if food is bad is odor and taste.
Rotten or bad food will have an "off" smell, and will most likely taste rancid.
(And yes, I've had my fair share of sampling... and I am still alive).

Just remember:
when in doubt, throw it out.

Last season alone I processed around 200 bottles of food.
So far I have had issues with about 10 of them.
That is by far the highest number of 'casualties' I've ever had in one year with canning, and I contribute it to storage conditions.
I usually have 1 or 2.
Now that we are back in our condo all of my bottled foods are stored under my sons bed, and the temperature in his room changes frequently throughout the year.
I may be wrong, but I am assuming that is why I had so many issues.

For the best shelf life:
- keep food as cold as possible (without freezing)
- keep away from heat and light sources
- store in areas with a stable temperature

and of course remember to rotate (eat the oldest thing first).

I hope this post didn't scare you!
Personally I think canning is well worth the effort and I will continue to do it.
Just do whatever type of food storage works best for you and your family.

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