Two Letters Re: Food for Long-Term Survival

Hi Jim,

Sheila’s article [“Food for Long-Term Survival”] contains a lot of good information, but seems to me to take the safety consideration of canning low acidic foods a little lightly. I’ve been canning for more than 30 years and even if you follow all of the rules, you occasionally get a bad jar of food. Low acid food, which include most vegetables, and all meats must be either pressure canned, or have their pH lowered (made more acid) below 4.6 by adding an acid like vinegar or citric acid. I’ve had good luck using a boiling water bath with pickled beets and pickled cabbage, and have done the same with beef using a German Sauerbraten recipe, which makes a somewhat different tasting pickled beef. Many Tomatoes sit just below the threshold of 4.6, but making something like Salsa which adds onion or peppers dilutes the acid and raises the pH above 4.6. Also, many modern tomato hybrids are bread for low acid content to make them easier on the stomach.

Foods with a natural pH above 4.6 have too little acid, and can allow the spores of the Clostridium Botulinum to grow and release a toxin. This toxin shuts down the communications between the nerves and muscles, and can be deadly in extremely small quantities. Boiling food containing the toxin for 10 minutes will destroy and deactivate the toxin, but this should be used as a precaution, and not as an excuse for poor canning practices. It seems to me to be akin to keeping QuikClot around for gunshot wounds, instead of avoiding being shot in the first place.

There are a lot of good books out there on canning (my favorite is Putting Food By, by Janet Greene) which I started using 30+ years ago. I’m on my third copy, and you can find a link to it on the Book and Video Shelf link on this blog. Get a good book & follow the directions, and you should have a great time putting your own food by. – LVZ in Ohio

Sheila C. mentioned a root cellar in Saturday’s article, “Food for Long Term Storage”. Mother Earth News put out a special summer edition entitled “Guide to Great DIY Projects”. On page 84, there is an article entitled “Build Your Own Basement Root Cellar”.

It looks like a fun and fairly easy do it yourself project. In our family, that means only one trip to the hardware store, and one weekend. It could take longer if you’re not familiar with home construction projects. – BLW.