Friday, June 6, 2014

Green Bean, The Scary Bean

I have canned lots of fruit and jams but I have not canned many vegetables or meat. It takes skill and special equipment to can these. I have my childhood training (which was dubious at best. Watching your Mom and Grandma can doesn't really count.) and I have taken a couple of extension classes, but I have put off the meat and veggies until this summer because of the exacting skill and danger it involves.

And before you start thinking about how that never really happens, let me just say IT DOES HAPPEN and it happens to even experienced food preservers. Canning must be done with special care and within very specific parameters.

A Pressure Canner should be tested every year to be sure that it is reaching full pressure. The pressure dial can sometimes be wildly off. Recipes must be followed exactly. Jars must not be packed too tightly or the core temperature will be too low to kill bacteria and you will have a jar of poison on your pantry shelf.

Three years ago, our friends' mother was found paralyzed on the kitchen floor from one bite of a home canned green bean. ONE BITE! They finally figured out what had happened to her (she was paralyzed and could not tell them) when they found the contents of a home canned jar of green beans in the kitchen garbage. She has recovered somewhat from this terrible experience, but her health is not what it used to be.

She had been canning her own beans for over 30 years without incident which is very sobering.

Green beans carry a special danger because they have the bacterium C. botulinum, bacteria living on them naturally from the soil and they are very low acid. Acid content inhibits the anaerobic bacterial growth which leads to Botulism.

These traits aren't a problem when the beans are fresh, the bacteria is harmless to humans by itself. But if they are present when the beans are canned improperly (not hot enough, for long enough, in the middle of the jar) the bacteria lives on and thrives in the airless environment of the jar, creating a colorless, odorless toxin.

This is an important point. The bacteria is not what makes you sick, it is the toxin it produces. The toxin does not smell or have a color. It is invisible and it is deadly.

Because it is a toxin, a poison, you cannot cook it out. This is a point that I have had to explain to many a bachelor/ bachelorette. Boiling a batch of home canned beans will NOT make them safe! The toxin is still in them. Boiling kills bacteria but it does nothing to the toxin. It will still make you sick. (This also goes for food that has been left in the car or on the counter.)

Many canning techniques have been changed through scientific research, so "Grandma's Recipe" is not necessarily safe either. An excellent resource for techniques, skills and recipes that have been scientifically tested can be found at The National Center for Home Food Preservation website.
I started palnting these purple green beans when the kids were little. They are much easier to find when picking. Sadly they turn deep green when cooked.
So I will be planting a full row of green beans and we will be eating them fresh until we can't face another serving. Then I will make the rest into Dilly Beans which are high in acid and are an amazingly popular and delicious treat in the winter.

If you choose to can green beans please follow tested and approved recipes and directions. Just any old video or recipe on the net is not safe.  My teacher, at the extension office, is very sad to see so many dangerous videos and recipes appearing on the internet. Home canning low acid foods safely is a very precise science.

So, green beans are off my list for home canning but I am a Homesteader in a modern world. I can freeze my green beans or I can buy them, properly canned (without the BPA plastic lining).
And I am fine with that. My health is too big of a price to pay for my pride.

1 comment:

  1. I ate hundreds of jars of canned green beans as a kid, but I've come to a similar conclusion that they are not worth the risk for what you get. Green beans freeze much better than they can, and it's quicker to do also. Our bean crop this year is a bust, but next year I want to try drying them to make leather britches.

    "Because it is a toxin, a poison, you cannot cook it out." - I have to disagree with you on this point though. Most extension services state that the botulism poison (a protein) can be deactivated by 10 minutes of boiling (without tasting the food first). I wouldn't suggest relying on this, but if you were starving and only had a dubious jar of green beans ... might be good to know.


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