Picture yourself in a jar underwater with salt, herbs and spices, and vinegar too suddenly bubbles appear at the surface what’s a few b-cells to do?
Flat lids and screw caps and boiling water towering over your head look for the cell with the b in it’s name and it’s gone (ta, ta, ta) Carrots in the jar with acid ….ahem.
If you’re one of the can jammers, or if you’re following along at home then you know that the noble carrot is the vegetable in focus this month. (even if you don’t give a damn about canning in february but will be hot water bath canning veggies sometime later in the year, then read on – it’s important!) …because we’re gonna talk about the b word.
yes i am talking about botulism, please read about it here, here and read this one too. After you’re done reading, the next logical question would be: what can i do to insure that the carrots (or any other vegetable for that matter) i hot water bath process do not kill me or my loved ones?
There’s exactly two things that will prevent this from happening:
1) the jars are boiled for long enough to kill off the clostridium botulinum vegetative cells.
2) the food in the jars is acidic enough to prevent the clostridium botulinum spores from germinating into cells.
Clostridium botulinum bacteria has two forms; vegetative cells – these produce the killer toxin, and protective structures called spores. when we boil the jars for the properly allotted time we kill the cells, but the spores survive. in a favorable environment the spores will germinate into the vegetative cells that produce the deadly botulinum toxin.
Here, let me break it down for ya: clostridium botulinum is a common microorganism found in soil all over the world. there’s no problem with it when it is exposed to oxygen, but when conditions are favorable for it to thrive it can become deadly. what are the conditions?
No air and low acidity.
Since we are forcing the air out of the jars when we hot water bath can, i.e creating a very favorable environment for germination, it is imperative that the acid level is high enough to prevent this from happening.
so when hot water bath canning low-acid foods (veggies not fruit) you will most likely be making pickles or chutneys and this is my advice to you:
1) use a reputable source written or updated 1995 or later – or check with the usda.
2) never vary the amount of vinegar, water or vegetables in the recipe. (herbs, spices, salt & sugar are ok)
3) use vinegar that is 5% acidity or higher (it’s marked on the label) – homemade vinegars are not ok because acidity level is unknown.
4) never boil the vinegar mixture longer than the recipe states.
if you are a newbie pickler i would also caution against switching out types of vegetables in the recipe, because boiling time differs for different veggies. in mixed pickles boiling time is always set for the vegetable that requires the longest amount of boiling time.
I would also not be in a rush to purchase a pH meter. a pH level of 4.6 or lower is required to prevent the germination of spores, and pickling recipes from reputable sources fall way within the realm of safety, usually within the 2.6 – 4.0 range. so if you follow the recipe exactly as outlined above ya got nothin’ to worry about. (plus you’ll either have to wait for 3 weeks after the pickles are canned or puree one whole jar of food before it’s canned to test accurately)