People across the country are gearing up for home canning in efforts to preserve summer flavors for year-round enjoyment.

Consequently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now reminding the public that knowing how to can safely is essential to preventing the growth of dangerous bacteria.

“Home canning is a great way to preserve your garden goodies. But beware: if it’s done the wrong way, the vegetables you worked so hard for could become contaminated by a germ that causes botulism, a serious illness that can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and even cause death,” warns the CDC.

According to the Atlanta-based agency, home-canned foods are a common source of botulism in the United States. From 1996 through 2008, foods prepared in homes accounted for 48 of the 116 foodborne botulism outbreaks reported to the agency. Of those 48 outbreaks, 18 (38 percent) were linked to home-canned vegetables.

The illnesses come from clostridium botulinum bacteria, which produce toxins that cause botulism. To create an environment that won’t support the growth of these toxins, the CDC says people should make sure the canning technique they use are up to date and aligns with new guidance rather than with obsolete and inadequate methods.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers general canning guidelines here. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.

Two crucial factors are:

  • Always use a pressure canner or cooker. Pressure canning is the only recommended method for canning vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood. Boiling water canners will not help prevent botulism poisoning.
  • Be sure the gauge of the pressure canner or cooker is accurate.

The CDC also advises that consumers keep an eye out for signs their home-canned food could be contaminated including:

  • If the container is leaking, bulging, or swollen;
  • If the container looks damaged, cracked, or abnormal;
  • If the container spurts liquid or foam when opened;
  • If the food is discolored, moldy, or smells bad.

If you suspect that a can or jar may be contaminated, do not open it because that can spread the bacteria. Also, do not taste it. If any of the potentially contaminated food is spilled, the CDC says to clean the area with a diluted bleach solution of 1/4 cup of bleach to 2 cups of water.

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