"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me?" ~ Ayn Rand, "The Fountainhead"

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Food Preservation for Self-Reliance, Part 2

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the February, 2012 issue of the Owl Creek Gazette, placed here with their permission.  For more great articles you can read the latest and all archived monthly editions of the Owl Creek Gazette online!

Food Preservation for Self-Reliance
Part two of a series
By: Roxanne Bare

Last week I was outside, in the ‘warm weather for January,’ walking around my garden and noticed a lot of green plants that were not only surviving, but actually thriving.  A few days later, winter hit with a vengeance of cold, wind and a smattering of snow.  This brings me back to the realization that it is too early to earnestly think of gardening but not too early to plan.  The seed catalogs have hit the mailbox and I am now up to 7 or 8 different companies all vying for my attention and my gardening dreams.

In the January issue of the Owl Creek Gazette, I started this series on Food Preservation for Self-Reliance and gave you some reasons to consider preserving your own food.  In a nut shell, those reasons include quality of food, better nutritive value, and environmental conservation.  Being able to supply yourself and your family with much, if not all, food leads you to greater self-reliance and less dependence on the food delivery systems. 

With the February issue, we want to discuss the most important consideration in home food preservation:  the prevention of food-borne illness.  Food safety should always be at the forefront of buying and preparing your food.  Even if you do not garden nor preserve your own food, this is a topic that affects everyone.  It seems that there are monthly recalls on some food product issued by the government agencies concerned with health and food safety.   E-Coli and Salmonella are the two bacteria that one hears about most often on the news.  However, this hardly makes a dent in the sources of food-borne illness that is possible.  Bacteria, viruses, molds, parasites and fungi are all potential illness creating organisms.  If you would like to do some really deep reading on all of these you can go to http://www.fda.gov and do a search on their website for the “Bad Bug Book”.  You will find an extensive work on food-borne pathogens there.  Fortunately, utilizing good sanitation practices and keeping one’s physical health in top condition will go a long way in reducing the dangers that lurk. 

The food-borne pathogen that we most want to focus on preventing during home food preservation is Clostridium Botulinum, the cause of Botulism.  Botulism is rare but when it does occur more than 65% of cases are fatal, according to the FDA’s “Bad Bug Book.”  In non-fatal cases, recovery may take weeks to years, depending on the severity of the poisoning.  Botulism is different than many other food-borne illnesses in the symptoms that present.  Symptoms include double vision, vertigo, inability to swallow and progressive respiratory paralysis.  Unlike other food-borne illnesses that affect the gastrointestinal tract, botulism attacks the nervous system.  It should be noted that the popular cosmetic injection drug, Botox, is derived from this bacteria for the purpose of “curing” wrinkles by paralyzing the muscles in the immediate injection area.

Cl. botulinum is the reference organism in home canning because:
1.       It is anaerobic (grows only in the absence of oxygen)
2.       It is potentially deadly
3.       It is sensitive to acid (prefers low acid food products)
4.       Its spores are heat-resistant
5.      Cannot tolerate more than 5% salt.
6.      Requires sufficient water
(Source: U. of I. CES Master Food Preserver Manual, Brewer, 1994.)

Preventing the growth of this particular pathogen during food preservation, especially during canning, is likely to result in preventing other food-borne pathogens as well.  The spores of Cl. botulinum and most other pathogens are all around us and normally pose no danger and with proper practices, you can maintain a healthy food supply for your family.   Just in case I have instilled a great sense of fear of food in you, let me give you the best and easy ways to be safe and have no need to fear your food.

Personal Hygiene:
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before touching food or equipment.
  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing.  Be sure to clean the fingernails too.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after touching raw meats, eggs or poultry and before handling other foods such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid handling food if you have cuts, sores, or are ill with a cold, sore throat, or intestinal illness. 
  • Wear clean clothing and keep your hair pulled back or covered while cooking.
  • Use proper utensils when mixing or stirring and if you must taste the food during preparation, use a clean spoon, only one time before cleaning….no double dipping!!
  • Do not smoke or eat while preparing food.  If you must do either, be sure to leave the food preparation area and wash your hands with soap and water before going back to the food preparation.

  • Use clean dish clothes or sponges when cleaning up, working or doing dishes.
  • Keep dishes, utensil, equipment and work surfaces clean by washing with soap and water and allowing to air dry.  You can also sanitize utensils and work surfaces with bleach water.  Use 1 Tbsp. of bleach to a gallon of water.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by cleaning work and cutting surfaces between different food items.  Be especially careful to clean surfaces after cutting meats and before cutting produce or even have separate cutting boards.
  • Keep your equipment clean and in good working order.  Do not use dishes or other equipment that are chipped, cracked or difficult to clean thoroughly.  Pay special attention to those little nooks and crannies in equipment and work surfaces.
  • Use the proper equipment for whatever food preparation and food preservation methods you are going to be doing.  Keep a thermometer in your refrigerator and have one for checking the temperature of cooking food…and use it.

Next month we will delve into the subject of home canning foods.  We will discuss the proper techniques and equipment for low-acid foods and higher-acid foods.  The following parts of the series will also cover freezing, dehydrating, and pickling.  

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