What I Found...

Friday, May 27, 2011
Part of me is hesitant to post this. I love having canned meats in my pantry - they are a lifesaver for busy nights and quick meals! And I don't want to scare ANYONE away from canning meats - it really is a lot easier than you might imagine.

BUT - I think this is also a good teaching/learning opportunity, and worth posting if it will help anyone else.

I canned my first batch of hamburger in 2009. We've used all of the jars so far, except one. It was sitting on my pantry shelf. I've spent the last week (or more) cleaning out my pantry and getting it organized (there was no time when we first moved in, so stuff was literally just set on shelves wherever we could fit it). I pulled this jar out to move it to another area, and as I was looking at it, I saw something that seemed a bit odd.

Here's what it looked like from the outside:

Pretty normal for canned hamburger. The white is fat. I thought I had drained the hamburger better, but I apparently didn't. (My second batch of canned hamburger that I did a month or so ago turned out much better because we actually rinsed the hamburger in water before canning it, to wash off all the fat we could.) Not a big deal - it rises to the top and then settles. Nothing too strange.

HOWEVER, as I turned the jar around, I thought I saw a spot that looked a little gray/green rather than the standard dirty white. I checked the lid - it was fully sealed and the lid was flat as flat can be (meaning it had sealed properly). But the inside still just didn't look quite right - it didn't look like most of the other jars of meat had looked.

So I opened it - I heard the seal break as I opened the lid, so I KNOW it was sealed before that. But here is what I found:

I'm not sure what it is. I don't think it is botulinum...It looks like a mold or fungus of some kind. I'm not sure how it was able to get in there, and why it wasn't killed by the long processing time in the pressure canner. I need to do a little more research and find out the what and hows...

But I wanted to post this to show that you do need to be alert when canning foods and using canned foods - even commercially canned foods. Know the signs of what to look for in possibly contaminated or tainted foods. There is no need to be scared, or to not can your own foods. You just need to be aware and alert.

- Always make sure you sterilize your canning jars before placing food in them
- Always follow the correct canning method for the type of food you are doing (water bath vs. pressure based on low-acid vs. high-acid foods)
- Always follow the correct processing time (and pressure) for the type of food you are canning
- Watch for signs of contamination: bulging of the lid, mold growing on the top of the food, discoloration, cloudiness in the brine or broth or juice, or a white film covering the food

For more info, I highly recommend reading through the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. It will tell you everything you need to know about canning all different types of foods and doing it SAFELY.

[I also want to mention that we've gone through literally dozens of jars of canned beef and chicken in the last two years, and this is the first (and so far only) time we've encountered one with a problem, so please don't let this scare you off of trying your hand at canning. And just because it is home-canned doesn't mean it is any less safe than commercially-canned items - we once got incredibly sick with food poisoning after eating a can of chicken breast meat from Sam's Club.]