Beware Botulism

Despite the fact that science has developed accurate processing schedules for canners, there is a continuing occurrence of outbreaks of botulism largely traceable to home-canned foods. Why? Many home canners follow directions obtained from old cookbooks or handed down from their parents. Those instructions were frequently developed through hit-or-miss techniques based on little precise knowledge. Other home canners simply choose to ignore the available information.

Many unsafe canning methods continue to be practiced today because they produce a good product often enough to lull users into thinking they are safe. For instance, open-kettle canning, a method in which cooked food is simply packed into sterilized jars and sealed with no additional processing, is recommended only for jellies containing sugar, although it is still widely used incorrectly for jams, fruits, tomatoes, pickles, etc. Water-bath processing of low-acid foods has been found to be inadequate for preventing botulism outbreaks unless excessively long processing times are used—which result in a greater loss of nutrients and greater energy consumption. “Oven-canning” is another unsafe method that is periodically “rediscovered” by home canners. With this method, the temperature inside a jar is not hot enough to kill the spoilage agents. There is also the danger of the jars exploding.

Other new, unsafe canning methods are regularly developed by consumers, who try to can in appliances such as dishwashers, slow cookers, and microwave ovens. None of these processes meet the safety criteria of government agencies that regulate commercial canners.

In canning, the time required for the heat to penetrate to the center of the food in the container (the slowest heating point) is extremely important and is affected by a number of factors:

1. The size and shape of the container (quarts take longer than pints);

2. The ratio of solids to liquid (the more liquid, the faster it heats);

3. The type and size of the pieces packed in the container (smaller pieces heat faster than big chunks);

4. The amount of fat (fat is a thermal insulator);

5. The type of heating medium being used (wet steam heats cans faster than dry air).

Thus if jars are packed too tightly, or with too little liquid, an adjustment in processing time must be made.

The natural acidity of a food also makes a big difference in the time and temperature needed to safely process a food. These natural acids have the ability to inhibit or prevent the growth of many of the microorganisms that produce spoilage and disease, but the degree of inhibition depends on the type and amount of acid present. Low-acid foods must be processed in a pressure canner at temperatures significantly above the boiling point of water and for specifically recommended lengths of time in order to avoid the risk of botulism. Typical foods in this category are most vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, milk products, seafood, and soups.

High-acid foods, including almost all fruits, pickles, and tomatoes, do not require pressure canning. Even here, however, the recommended length of processing varies from food to food.

The many varieties of tomatoes now available have caused some confusion as to the method of canning required. In recent tests, so-called “low-acid” tomatoes are not truly low-acid: typically, their sugar content was higher than other varieties, which altered their taste, not their acidity. Most tomatoes can thus be processed normally. Pear-shaped and long-bodied varieties of tomatoes do tend to have a lower acid content, however. Also, as a tomato ripens the acidity lessens. Overripe tomatoes should thus be avoided; however, it is safe to process them in a pressure canner.

Following are several safeguards to avoid potential dangers from home-processed foods:

Use a properly functioning pressure canner for canning all low-acid foods, and follow reputable recommended time and temperature schedules exactly.

Have the seal and pressure gauge on the canner checked regularly to assure accurate temperature control. (Contact your local agricultural extension service office, or write Department of Food Science and Nutrition, 2218 SFLC, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602, for instructions on how this is done.)

Use the boiling-water-bath method only for fruits, fruit juices and purees, tomatoes, and pickles in acid (such as vinegar). Follow the recommended time tables exactly.

In combination foods such as stews or similar items, select processing times and temperatures for the food with the lowest acid content. A few tomatoes in canned beef stew do not turn it into a high-acid food.

Do not can overripe fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes.

Thoroughly wash or peel any fruits or vegetables that have been sprayed with pesticides.

Do not overpack jars; allow adequate “head space” above the food.

Do not reuse sealing lids or cracked, chipped jars.

Do not use jars not designed for canning.

Do not use canned foods showing any signs of spoilage. Especially, do not taste doubtful food—it could be your last meal. “When in doubt, throw it out” (and away from children or pets). If it is a commercially canned food, put it in a safe place and call the food distributor, the public health office, or your local Federal Food and Drug Administration official. Your action could save someone else’s life.

For added safety, boil home-canned products for ten to fifteen minutes before serving whenever possible. The heat will destroy any toxin which might have formed in spite of all previous precautions. The foods most commonly involved in botulism poisonings are beans, corn, spinach, peppers, and asparagus. All should be able to stand this treatment without excess loss of quality.

Further information is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from your state extension agent, or from the manufacturers of canning supplies. (Excerpted from Home Canning, a Scientific Status Summary by the Institute of Food Technologists’ Expert Panel on Food Safety and Nutrition and the Committee on Public Information)

Holiday with Ice

When traveling, we always carry cold drinks in a large thermos for quick refreshment. We used to have a problem keeping the drinks really cold. We tried adding ice cubes, but these would melt and dilute the drink. So now we put ice cubes in a sealed cooking bag and place that in the drink. It not only keeps the drink cold without diluting it, but even when the ice does eventually melt it can be frozen again inside the bag and reused. Charlotte Mitchell, Murray, Utah

Ether Woke Us Up

Over the months, our reading of the Book of Mormon with the children was a faithful and methodical daily exercise. Drowsiness of attitude was setting in more and more. Little did we realize that Ether would wake us up.

It had been more difficult than we had supposed to clarify for the children time sequences and group relationships when we worked our way through the tales of Zeniff and his people, the happenings of Alma the Elder and his group, the adventures of the sons of Mosiah. Now we were approaching the book of Ether. Very likely, we supposed, the recordings of wars, murders, and intrigues in Ether would become mixed in our children’s minds with the tragic events that we read of in Mormon. How could we make it be otherwise? We theorized that if our study approach was somehow different, that difference might make Ether a separate package of information.

There are fifteen chapters in Ether, so we purchased five 22″ x 28″ posterboards and marked each into three sections, one for illustrating each chapter. Each day after reading a chapter, we would have a group drawing session using colored markers. (On some days, the schedule was such that reading and drawing times didn’t happen back-to-back.)

Suggestions for illustrations came rapidly from all family members. And as we discussed ideas of who might draw what and as we spent the extra few moments thinking about what we had read, we remembered more.

Our illustrations aren’t all that great and our approach made for jumbled, overall design. The simple and direct depictions of our 7-, 8-, and 10-year-olds are mixed in with some hasty scribblings by parents. But what was recorded remains as visual clues that quickly evoke remembrances.

The Tower of Babel looms majestically in the chapter one space.

In space number two, our oldest child busied herself drawing bees and bees and bees, plus some fish. Our wisecracking eight-year-old drew many tents. Over one appears a comic-strip dialogue balloon with the words: “I’m sick of living in tents for four years!” In all my reading and rereading of Ether over the years, I had never really grabbed on to the fact that the group had to spend four years on the seashore before embarking for the new land. That fact is now indelibly with me.

Number three space was the place to draw sixteen glowing stone. A finger comes out of a cloud.

Number four space has in it a great mountain with a few words written at the top, summarizing the direction given to the brother of Jared: “Go down and write the things you’ve seen.” (Here and there throughout the chapter spaces are short sentences noting hard-to-depict doctrinal points, etc.)

Number five space includes three silhouettes of people that bring to mind the information Moroni received about the three witnesses who would see the plates in the future.

One child did a beautiful drawing of a king in the sixth space. The space also includes vessels in the water, with a balloon above one stating: “I wonder how much longer to go. It’s been 344 days!”

In space number seven there are back-and-forth arrows leading from one tiny figure to another. A sentence proclaims: “Boy! It’s sure hard to keep track of Kings!”

Our ten-year-old daughter loves to draw girls, and in space eight she had her chance. She drew the evil daughter reclining on a couch, eating grapes, dreaming (in a dream balloon) of her plan to dance before Akish.

Children love to draw snakes, so what was the main subject matter in the chapter nine space? Snakes!

In chapter ten we learn about Riplakish and his wicked rule. Whoever would not or could not pay taxes was put in prison. And Riplakish caused “all manner of fine workmanship … to be wrought in prison.” One child drew a man behind bars, holding up a craft item and saying: “What do you think of this, sir?” The wicked king is yelling, “GIMMEE!”

The pestilence recorded in chapter eleven was illustrated by bugs and spiders, while to depict the famines, our eight-year-old drew a skinny, skinny man who is saying: “Can you believe I’m the fattest person in the town?”

Sloppy, small lettering of the word weakness counters the strong, bold lettering of the word STRENGTH in space twelve.

Space thirteen shows two eyes peering out of a cave and a sign proclaiming “Hiding Place of Ether.”

In space fourteen, a pile of stick figures colored inside, around, and above with red (for blood) represents the whole face of the land being covered with dead. One child drew Coriantumr standing next to this pile, saying, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.”

Last-chapter drawings include the hand of Ether writing the sorry history of his people on some plates. Knowing that he did not write in English, the children filled in lines of signs and symbols from their imagination to represent another language.

Some time after we finished the book of Ether we were at stake conference when a speaker made some comments about the brother of Jared. Our then eight-year-old daughter leaned toward me and whispered, “That’s from the book of Ether.” Our children saw those Jaredites as real people, and in spite of the sometimes light-hearted involvement, I felt a greater emotional attachment than ever before to the Jaredites and their struggles. And we keep remembering. Dianne Dibb Forbis, Salt Lake City, Utah

Triple Combinations Child-Style

Last October conference President Spencer W. Kimball counseled, “We have recommended that so far as possible all the children have their own scriptures and learn to use them.” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 4.) Our children, though young, have expressed an interest in carrying their own scriptures to Church. I came up with an idea whereby they could have their own scriptures in as few books as possible and without the expense of a triple combination.

In a family home evening, we had them each take a missionary copy of the Book of Mormon and a $1.50 soft copy of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price and glue them together. Then we covered them with some leftover artificial leather and made a pencil holder on the edge. Now they have their own triple combination and their Bibles they received at baptism to carry to church and study at home. Linda A. Taylor Bohman, Phoenix, Arizona

[illustrations] Illustrated by Michael Rogan