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Is your canned food still decent?

Is Your Canned Food Safe to Eat?

One of the main concerns about canning is the safety of the food. Will it have mold? Bacteria? How will I know? The concern is understandable, but if you follow instructions, use clean surfaces, and use fresh foods, then the risks are minimal.

The biggest issue with canned food is the fear about the foods containing Clostridium botulinum. You might be asking, “What is that?” It is a bacterium that releases toxins that cause botulism. Botulism is a type of food poisoning. According to the CDC, there are about 145 cases of botulism every year. About 15 percent of botulism cases are foodborne.

Botulism, FOODBORNE. Number of reported cases, by year --- United States, 1989--2009 via CDC
Botulism, FOODBORNE. Number of reported cases, by year — United States, 1989–2009

How to tell if your food has botulism

The bacterium that causes botulism cannot be seen, however, there are some tell-tale signs of spoilage.  Store the jars without the rings on them. This way, if there is a gas being released in the jar, it will pop the seal off and you’ll know that the food is no longer healthy.  While you are cooking your food, if it releases an odd smell or has foam, don’t risk it. These are a few major signs of spoilage.

Cans stored without rings.
Canning jars properly stored without rings.

Ways to avoid spoilage

First, make sure that you use recipes that have already been tested in labs. Food labs test to make sure that foods have enough acid in them to be cooked at certain temperatures for specified lengths of time, so that bacteria will have difficulty living. Making big changes to those recipes, or using your own recipe, puts you in danger of not knowing how to safely can your foods. Unless, of course, you have a way of testing the foods yourself!

Second, cleanliness is essential. It is important to use clean surfaces and jars to can your foods. Another thing that you can do is be sure to peel root vegetables. Clostridium botulinum is found in soil all over the world.

After you’ve actually canned your foods there are a few things to do as well. Store your foods in a spot that is 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to store the jars without the rings so you can find out if the food is still healthy, based on whether the seal pops off or stays on.

Minnetrista's shelf of canned goods (some rings left on loosely to reduce clutter)
Minnetrista’s shelf of canned goods (some rings left on loosely to reduce clutter)

Should I stop canning?

I have written this blog to give canners, especially new canners, information about canning safely. However, I do not want to deter people from canning. I’ve eaten canned food my whole life. To my knowledge, I don’t know anyone who has gotten botulism. But when I’m canning, I do realize the risk and I choose tested recipes and don’t change them much. Use your smarts and follow the instructions and you’ll be good to go!

For tested recipes, use Ball Blue Book recipes, recipes from, or the USDA.

As always, happy canning!