Should I open my big virtual mouth?

patchworkfarm(6)August 21, 2011

I very recently friended an old college pal on facebook, and checked out his and his wife's pages, where they detail their recent homesteading adventures. His wife has a photo tutorial on canning tomatoes which is basically peeling and boiling tomatoes, ladling them into hot jars and that's it. No pressure canning. No water bath. Just wait for the lids to pop down.

Another viewer commented how easy that looked and asked if she could add green peppers. The wife said SURE!

Now I'm no canning expert, but this seems pretty unsafe to me, especially if she's telling others to go ahead and add other non-acidic ingredients.

So I'm screwing up some courage to post & tell a woman I don't even know that she's doing something really unsafe. Any advice on how not to come across as a big jerk? OR should I just keep my big virtual mouth shut?

This is someone's personal page . . . on the other hand, she's posting things for others to see and copy, and not giving responsible advice.

I'd appreciate your thoughts.

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Linda_Lou(SW Wa.)

You should say something since you also don't say she adds bottled lemon juice . That can lead to botulism. It is a serious issue, not just spoilage of the food.

I have to be the bad guy a lot. If they get mad, then oh well. I would send a link to how to properly can them and maybe one that talks about "open kettle ".

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 10:47PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Be thankful it's not your best friend or a member of your family.

Honestly, tough as this is, I think when we know better we have an obligation to point out the problem. Lots of people today have begun to can without understanding the issues.

I think tomatoes are kind of the "Rodney Dangerfield" of the canning world. People continually understate the potential thinking tomatoes are some sort of high-acid fruit and they're not.

In fact, some varieties have tested out as high as 4.8 pH. It's the reason lemon juice or citric acid are now required additions.

Since they're using an old-fashioned method, I'll cite an old-fashioned source. In 1940 an article was published in California State Department of Public Health Weekly Bulletin noting 5 cases of botulism from home-canned tomatoes. One person died.

In 2008 14 people were hospitalized in Russia following consumption of home-canned tomatoes. Closer to home in Ontario,Canada there was an outbreak of botulism, again due to consumption of home-canned tomatoes. That happened in 2003.

People think because they don't know anyone who's run into problems, the method they're using is safe. That isn't the case. Botulism is rare, but it's a highly toxic nerve agent and people do die.

Worse, you can't see it and you can't smell it so you won't know what's happened until hours or even days later. You can live in blissful ignorance for a week and then suddenly find yourself felled by this terrible and often fatal poison.

It's ironically apt that botulism used to be called Kerner's disease. He was the man who signed the death certificates of victims in an early outbreak.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 11:45PM
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homemadecountrylife(Zone 8A CA)

I too encountered a problem like this, only it was in real life.

My church organized a one day only of classes you could choose from to learn basic but classic lessons you should know how to run a house. They offered free classes such as, Knitting, Basic Pie Crust Making, Mending, Sewing, Couponing, Canning Jam, ect.. I chose Canning Jam sinceI had watched my Mom can when I was a child, but wanted a refresher course. The lady told us she was self taught (Red Flag #1), that she red up on some of the older methods from our local Library (Red Flag #2) and by this time I was concerned and uncomfortable. Then when she hot packed them and said to leave them on the counter for a couple hours to "seal them" (Red Flag #3), asked if it was safe (full well knowing it wasn't), she said no one in her family has gotten sick yet and that her grandmother did it that way for years. I was upset and sick about this. Here this woman was endorsing an unsafe method to 20 women who didn't know any better. I tried asking her if she was sure that this was safe (in a wussy nice way) saying I remembered my Mom HWB canning them to seal it, but she brushed me off saying if I wanted to I could, "just to be safe". That is where I SHOULD have said "No, it IS safer. The Extension Offices say so and so do all of the new canning books" ect. But I didn't and even my best friend was sucked into the open kettle method. I took her straight to the web and my newest and latest BB canning book and showed her that it is never safe. I feel so bad and awful that so many could hurt their families even though they were just trying to do some good.

I am now a total fan of just speaking up and saving some one from being very sick of botulism or worse.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2011 at 1:00AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Agree. Speak up. I often do on sites like that that allow for comments. But try to do it politely and attach links to supporting documentation. The tomatoes method is bad enough but the peppers issues is especially dangerous.

But be prepared for negative feedback as I have found homesteaders to be especially defensive of their methods of food preservation. has its own canning forum and they get downright hostile toward any suggestions that they might want to consider changing some of their methods. They will literally can anything and do 90% of it in a BWB if they do any processing at all.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2011 at 9:16AM
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I think I would refer her to NCHFP (National Center for Home Food Preservation.) It's the official guideline for canning. That way you make them the bad guy, you're just a concerned friend.

Dave's right though. You may still get negative feedback. People do seem very defensive of their canning methods. "After all, it's the way my Granny did it," type of mentality. People think they'll just get food poisoning if its done wrong and will just have a bad stomach for a few days. As Carol said Botulism is a neuro toxin. The effects are usually permanent and can be fatal. I think in the US there are on average between 4-12 deaths a year from botulism.

Here is a link that might be useful: National Center of Home Food Preservation

    Bookmark   August 22, 2011 at 9:37AM
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I am in the process of preparing a digital family scrapbook and decided it would be nice to include some old family recipes ..some of them are canned. I have changed these recipes where necessary to reflect current USDA recommendations as to acidification and processing. I pointed the changes out and gave the reasons why. I fully expect to hear back from my cousins ... "But Annie always did it this way." Almost the same words Annie came back with to me when she was still alive and I questioned her methods. Change comes slowly.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2011 at 9:57AM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

homemadecountrylife, you are fortunate in that jam is generally low-risk so if people choose not to process they may lose some jam to mold but otherwise there's little harm.

You were still right to speak up. (And I know face-to-face and with a member of your congregation it can be very difficult.) This could indeed be risky if the jam were an untested melon, fig, or pepper jelly.

Change comes slowly. Many people construe these comments as a criticism or rejection of great-grandma when it's not. Grandma did the best she could with the knowledge she had.

Some homesteaders are seduced by nostalgia for the old ways without considering their failings and limits.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2011 at 10:20AM
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homemadecountrylife(Zone 8A CA)

Thank you, Carol, it was pretty tough, and I know Jam really isn't a big deal. I was more worried that the other ladies around me would think that you could open kettle other things. The teacher also gave us all her number saying she cans alot of other things and if we had questions to give her a call. Being that she taught herself how to can, I didn't trust her methods, and what if she, like the OP mentioned, endorsed that you could just toss in what ever you wanted to in your jars?

Again, it is one of those small do-over moments in life.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2011 at 10:47AM
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Thanks folks, for all the encouragement. I did feel compelled to point out where I saw a safety concern. I just needed a sanity check to make sure I'm not stepping over a line.

I'll compose something friendly to her tonight--and report back on how well its received.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2011 at 6:39PM
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ahbee01(z5 OH)

Some people will take heed most will not! I even had a conversation with someone that said they can in the dish washer! OMG!!!!! makes me not want to eat at any one's house! LOL!!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 9:39PM
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