Botulism Question

lisa-regina(5)April 23, 2010

This may be a crazy question, but here it goes. I have found salsa that I canned back around seven years ago. I want to throw it out and dispose of it in or around the garden, since I don't know what else to do with it. I was going to dig a two or three foot hole and dump it in the hole and cover it up with lots of soil. I don't know if the salsa is contaminated, but don't want to take any chances, so I am treating the situation as though it is. I am worried that the tomato and pepper plants roots could come into contact with it and maybe even absorb it through the roots and throughout the rest of the plant. My question is could the plants be infected with botulism and produce fruit that could poison my family? If this is not the proper method of disposal of contaminated canned food, does anyone know a safe way to do so?.... Thanks....Lisa

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If you need to ask then you already know the answer.

Flush it down the toilet.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 4:36PM
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And I'm not sure I agree with this, but the FED says to bag it up and put it out in the trash. It bothers me because not all areas of the country have incinerators. I know that my area has water purification for grey water treatment, and for the longest time flushing the offending product was the best way to dispose of it; but when or if that changed over locally I have no idea. You could call your county Board of Health or Dept of Sanitation and ask their advice.

Here is a link that might be useful: CDC on Botulism

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 4:42PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

You'll find lengthy and detailed discussions on this issue over on the Harvest Forum as it is the forum that deals with food preservation and the related issues.

As Trudi has pointed out the CDC recommendations I won't go into them but please understand that c. botulinum bacteria already exists in your garden soil. It is in all soil. It is in the air and on surfaces all around us all the time and in and of itself, the bacteria poses no threat to us. We even eat it at times without knowing it.

It is the neurotoxins that the bacteria produce when it is sealed in an anaerobic (no air/O2) environment (such as a sealed processed jar) that are the threat, not the bacteria itself.

So no, your tomato plants will not "absorb" the bacteria and the bacteria will not be in a position to produce toxins. Feel free to bury your old salsa or better yet, add it to your compost pile.

The CDC and USDA/NCHFP recommendations for handling are directed toward preventing further contamination of you personally or kitchen surfaces/implements with any toxin that may be in the jar, not the bacteria itself.

Hope this helps clarify.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 5:38PM
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star_stuff(Greensboro NC 7a)

Interesting dilemma. Dave is always a voice of reason, science, and fact.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 5:53PM
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Dave rocks! You could however bring it to a boil first as most bacteria die at 160F. But thats the chef in me.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 6:36PM
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The safest manner to dispose of potentially unsafe canned foods is to leave them lidded, place them in a heavy garbage bag, close the bag and take to a nearby landfill or secure transver station. This will also assure that they will not be eaten by pets or humans which might be a possibility if placed in a dumpster or in outgoing trash.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 2:26PM
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Compost that stuff, or bury it in a trench.

The toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum is a protein ... it is decomposed by soil bacteria just like other proteins.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 2:35PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

C.botulium exists in nature in the spore form, not the bacterial form.

Spores are not killed by boiling. They must be destroyed by high heat under pressure. And the spores that are found in food canned by the open water method need an acidic environment in order to destroy them so that's why all food canned by the open water method should be acidified.

So no toxin is made by bateria in the soil; spores are a dormant form of the bacterium and produce nothing.

The several toxins are made only by live reproducing bacteria which result from conversion from spores to bacteria in anaerobic conditions, which was mentioed above.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 5:35PM
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jonas302(central mn 4)

Wait a minute why on earth would your salsa be contaminated were the jars unsealed, bubbling ect or any sign of trouble if not there is no reason not to eat it or dump it as you please Botulism dosn't just decide to grow because the jars are old althogh the flavor may or may not be deminished

Now if there is sign of contamination be carfull and follow the advise for that

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 9:39PM
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yes, plants can absorb bacteria through their root systems. I refer you to the E. coli outbreak from spinach a few years ago in CA.

Secondly, C. botulinum SPORES are killed by heating them to the equivalent of 250 °F for 3 minutes. Yes, I say equivalent because less temperature means more time to kill the spores. It is all logarithmic. So, yes, 212 °F will kill spores after enough time. Open water method is not recommended because the time it would take to destroy the spores would pretty much destroy the food. Also, C. botulinum mainly exists in nature as the bacterial form. The only time they form spores is when the environment is ruthless and not optimal for proliferation/growth.

Thirdly, the toxins of C. botulinum are denatured by heat. 180 °F will denature all the toxins. If you ever concerned about your food, heat it to 180 and you can rest easy.

Fourth, if the pH of your salsa is less than 4.6, pathogenic bacteria can not survive. No pathogenic bacteria can survive a pH environment of less than 4.6 as 4.6 is the magical pH used in the food industry.

Lastly, the toxins produced by C. botulinum are not gaesous and do not cause swelling of containers.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 10:02PM
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acidic environment is not correct. The pH is measured from 0 - 14 with 7 being neutral. Below 7 is acidic, above 7 is basic. So, C. botulinum can survive an acidic environment from the pH of 4.6 to 6.9

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 10:07PM
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See what jonas said. More than a dozen years ago, I made ketchup, boiled it, poured it into plastic Mt. Dew bottles and put the lid on tight. I still use it.

YMMV but I'm not related to Keith Richards!


    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 10:08PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Johnny, I disagree with several things you said above but it really isn't my intent to itemize. Just one main comment below.

This bacterium does exist mainly as spores in the environment b'c it's an obligate anaerobe and the vegetative form, the bacteria, are killed by air.

If it were a facultative anaerobe there could be some microenvironments where the bacterial form could exist for short periods of time, but it's obligate, not a facultative anaerobe.

Carolyn, retired Microbiologist ( infectious diseases, see my page), and who does understand pH, log killing curves, denaturation, etc. ( Smile)

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 10:32PM
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Quote "The acidity of a food is very important in food preservation. Pathogenic bacteria, particularly Clostridium botulinum, do not grow when the pH is below 4.6. Foods that have a pH of 4.6 or lower are called high-acid foods and include fruits, tomatoes and pickles. Low acid food have a pH between 4.6 and 7.0. They include meats, poultry, fish and vegetables." This is from the Food Preserver class material from the U. of Idaho which teaches all USDA and NCHFP guidelines. Also, from the same source, "Most bacteria grow best in foods with pH values of 6.0 to 8.0. However, a few bacteria prefer, and many others tolerate, the acidity of foods having pH values from 4.0 to 6.0. Bacteria that cause human diseases (pathogenic bacteria) will not grow in highly acid foods (pH below 4.6). However, some, such as E.coli:O157:H7, can survive in acidic foods in levels sufficient to cause illness."

You can detoxify canned foods that have spoiled, but you have to be so careful because even physical contact with botulism toxin can wind up being fatal whether it is ingested or enters through the skin. I personally, and a lot of other knowledgeable long time food preservers would prefer to properly dispose of the containers of spoiled canned goods in the manner I specified in my previous post.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 11:27PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

About 20 years ago about 20 LOW ACID round red tomato varieties were introduced. What followed were many cases of botulism from canned tomatoes using those LOW ACID tomatoes.

After that terrible tragedy CDC informed all state health departments that ALL tomatoes canned by the open water bath method should be acidified, and they suggested lemon juice.

And the reason for acidicfication is b'c any contaminating botulism spores are NOT inactivated unless the canned contents are at an acid pH.

And the reason for that recommendation to acidicfy is b'c the acidity of ALL tomato varieties out there used for canning is not known, far from it.

The only remaining known low acid variety that was introduced all those years ago is Jet Star F1, which happens to be one of my favoite hybrids, although I grow mainly heirlooms, and if anyone looks in the BLue Book for canning, or looks at listings for Jet Star F1 at TGS or some other places the fact that JEt Star F1 is low acid is noted in the variety description.

Hope that helps.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 8:32AM
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Here's a question to the microbiologists out there...

Let's say the bacteria in contaminated caned tomatoes is killed at a specific temperature, which is al well and good since the bacti are not the problem.

At what cooking temperature/time would the botulinum toxin protein be denatured--which is the problem, right--and rendered "safe" to cpmpost (unless you bury it in the middle of your pile). I'd hate to kill any critters as a result (except a fre with bushy tails lol).

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 12:39PM
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Boy, I think that I am more confused now than I was when I asked the question he,he. All that I want to do is bury the salsa and bleach my jars, so that I can keep them. I don't want to throw away my jars if I can use them again. Bleach water should kill or destroy toxins right? To answer the question about why that I think that the salsa may be contaminated is because I put black beans and corn in my salsa and boil bath water canned it. I did put the correct amount of vinegar in each jar before canning, but still don't trust it enough to eat it. Actually to tell you the truth I went overboard with the vinegar, we called it pickled salsa, so it might be fine. Really didn't like it anyhow! It was the first real canning that I have ever done and according to harvest form, I did a real bad job. After reading info on that forum, I am almost afraid to can anything. Everyone has a different opinion of what is safe.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 10:08PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

After reading info on that forum, I am almost afraid to can anything. Everyone has a different opinion of what is safe.

I'm sorry you have that impression of the Harvest Forum but am happy to say it isn't shared by many. The only time differences of opinion come up is when someone insists on making up their own recipes or using untested or unapproved recipes for some reason when approved recipes are so readily available.

But yes, all we regulars there are very strong advocates for safety in home canning and following the current guidelines. Heaven knows there is plenty of unsafe, even downright dangerous, home canning info and recipes out there on the web without us contributing more to it. However we often add that opting to ignore the guidelines is your choice as each of us has to decide the level of risk we are comfortable with. We just won't advocate a risk to others.

But yes, salsa with black beans and corn added to it and only BWB processed would definitely be considered unsafe for home canning.

At what cooking temperature/time would the botulinum toxin protein be denatured-

The USDA/NCHFP guidelines state "hard boil for 10 minutes".


    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 10:43PM
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Dave, please don't get me wrong. I wasn't ditching the harvest forum, I was ditching myself for being so stupid as to think that I could can on my own with little knowledge of what I was doing. I got my information from an ole time canner who wasn't up to date on canning practices. I found out that the old ways were dangerous from reading posts on the harvest forum, that is the reason that I want to play it safe and dump it out. I am very greatful for the harvest forum, if it hadn't been for that forum I and my family would have eaten that salsa which could have caused our death. So if I have offended anyone, that was not my intention and I am very sorry. I actually love all the forums here on GardenWeb and have learned many things from all of you. I love this website....Lisa

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 2:34AM
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Lisa, please don't give up on canning. You have already been hooked by it. Just get a copy of the Ball Blue Book and always check out recipes for canning either there or on the NCHFP website. Whenever you have questions, just Google your question plus "Gardenweb Harvest". If you don't find an answer from previous posts, go to the Harvest Forum and ask the question. Anyone will be happy to help you.

Another thing you might want to consider is taking a class on food preserving through your Extension office or online. The one's through the Extension offices can be pricey, but are hands on. The U. of Idaho offers a class online for a small amount of $$ and the U. of Georgia offers their online class for free. Even though I've been canning for well over 40 years, I decided to take the U. of Idaho class so I can get up to date on anything I might have missed plus be certified. The first lesson covers what we've been talking about on here. The Case Study will blow your mind.

Don't give up. Canning can provide such healthy benefits for your family plus financial savings. Its also so satisfying to be able to look at a pantry full of those beautiful jars of fruit and vegetables that you put up yourself.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 9:45AM
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