At the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, we receive about 70,000 calls a year from people who want to know how to prepare and store food safely. We can tell from our calls that it’s late summer, because we’re starting to get lots of questions about canning vegetables at home.
Canning is an excellent method of preserving your garden produce — if it’s done correctly and safely. If not, the vegetables you worked so hard to grow, harvest, and preserve could be deadly. If the bacterium that causes botulism survive and grow inside a sealed jar of food, they can produce a poisonous toxin. Even a taste of food containing this toxin can be fatal.
Here are some tips to ensure that your canned vegetables don’t spoil and make you or your family sick.
- Make sure you use the latest canning methods and recommendations. Scientific research is continually being conducted on food preservation. Make sure your food preservation information is always current with up-to-date, scientifically tested guidelines. For this reason, don’t use outdated publications or cookbooks, even if they were handed down to you from trusted family cooks.
- Use the right equipment for the kind of foods that you are canning. Pressure canning is the only recommended method for canning vegetables, as well as meat, poultry, and seafood. The bacterium that causes botulism is destroyed in these foods when they are processed at the correct time and pressure in pressure canners. Using boiling water canners for these foods poses a real risk of botulism poisoning.
- Follow these recommendations to ensure that home-canned vegetables are safe:
- Use a pressure canner.
- Be sure the gauge of the pressure canner is accurate.
- Use up-to-date process times and pressures for the kind of food, the size of jar, and the method of packing food in the jar.
Also, before eating home-canned vegetables, check to make sure that:
- The jar lid is firmly sealed and concave.
- No liquid is leaking from the jar.
- No liquid spurts out when you open the jar.
- No unnatural or “off” odors can be detected.
If you need in-depth, step-by-step instruction on home canning, we recommend consulting these excellent resources:
- The state and county extension service of your state university; they’re specialists in home canning.
- The National Center for Home Food Preservation is your best source on the web for current research-based canning recommendations, including the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.
For general questions, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov.
Summer holidays provide us with a much needed break from school and work, but that doesn’t mean that we should take a break from being smart about food safety. If anything, we need to be more careful, since foodborne illnesses increase during the summer.
Test your summer food safety IQ by taking this short quiz. You’ll find the answers at the bottom of this blog.
- Why do foodborne illnesses increase during the summer?
- Bacteria, including those that cause foodborne illness, tend to multiply faster when the temperatures are warm
- People are cooking and eating outside more, away from the refrigerators, thermometers, and washing facilities of a kitchen.
- Both (a) and (b).
- You’re having a cookout in the backyard, and the hamburgers are ready for the grill. How can you tell if the burgers are done and safe to eat?
- They have been cooked for at least 4 minutes on each side.
- A thermometer inserted in the middle of the patties registers at least 160 °F.
- They are brown in the middle and no pink is showing.
- The burgers are done, and you’re ready to take them off the grill. Is it safe to put the cooked burgers back on the plate that held the raw meat?
- Yes, as long as you wipe off the plate with a paper towel.
- Yes, because the burgers are thoroughly cooked.
- No, because any bacteria in the raw meat or juices could contaminate the cooked burgers.
- It’s 3:00 p.m. and you just finished making fresh salsa for a party that begins at 6:00 p.m. Is it safe to leave the salsa out on the counter for three hours, until the party begins?
- Yes, because the acid in the tomatoes will keep harmful bacteria from growing.
- No, because bacteria grows rapidly in food at room temperature.
- No, because your family might eat it all before the party starts.
- You want to make some homemade ice cream, and the recipe calls for eggs. You’ve heard that raw eggs may be contaminated with Salmonella. What should you do?
- Use an egg substitute product or pasteurized eggs instead of raw eggs.
- Cook and chill the milk before adding the eggs.
- Don’t worry about it. It’s never made you sick in the past, has it?
- 1c: The combination of warm weather and outdoor meals can be deadly. Check out Foodborne Illness Peaks in Summer - Why? to learn more.
- 2b: You can’t rely on timing or the appearance of meat to tell that it’s done. Find out why the USDA recommends using a food thermometer.
- 3c: Be smart. Keep foods apart. Don’t cross-contaminate.
- 4b: Never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours (or one hour if the temperature is over 90 °F. Learn more about how to keep salsa and guacamole safe.
- 5a: Check out these options for making homemade ice cream safely.
So, how did you do? Remember, even if you don't have all of the answers, we do. We're available by email, phone, and even live chat.
Without color additives, colas wouldn’t be brown, margarine wouldn’t be yellow, and mint ice cream wouldn’t be green. Here at the FDA, we’re committed to making sure the color additives in your food are safe.
Color additives are used in foods to:
- Offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture, or storage conditions
- Make natural variations in color look more uniform
- Enhance colors that occur naturally
- Provide color to colorless and “fun” foods, like those brightly colored popsicles that are perfect for beating the summer heat.
The FDA regulates color additives used in food and dietary supplements marketed in the United States. FDA is responsible for making sure all foods containing color additives are safe for consumption, contain only approved ingredients, and are properly labeled.
So how do we ensure that these colors are safe?
First of all, the FDA uses the best science available to determine whether there is “a reasonable certainty of no harm” to consumers when the color additive is used properly (at its intended level and for its intended purpose). When the FDA approves a color additive, the Agency issues strict requirements for it. Among other things, these requirements specify :
- The types of foods in which it can be used
- The maximum amounts allowed to be used
- How it should be identified on the food label
All color additives are subject to ongoing safety review as science and methods of testing continue to improve.
It is possible, but it is rare, to have an allergic-type reaction to a color additive. For example, in the 1980s, an FDA panel concluded that fewer than one of 10,000 people might experience itching or hives after consuming a food containing FD&C Yellow No. 5. This color additive is widely found in beverages, desserts, processed vegetables, candy, and other products. As with all certified colors, FD&C Yellow No. 5 must be listed on the food label – so that consumers who are sensitive to the color can avoid it.
There are times when the FDA learns that a food containing a color additive may be unsafe. For example, the food may contain a color additive that is prohibited, or the additive may be improperly identified on the packaging. In these situations, the FDA can issue a warning letter to the manufacturer, detain products before they are shipped to stores, or even seize products.
FDA continually monitors reports of problems that may be related to color additives. If you think that you have had an allergic or other kind of reaction to a color additive, phone the FDA at 301-436-2405.
Questions and Answers
Updated July 30, 2010
Q. What about the link between food additives and cancer? ADHD?
A. In the approval process, FDA evaluates safety data to ensure that a color additive is safe for its intended purposes. Color additives that FDA has found to cause cancer in animals or humans may not be used in FDA-regulated products marketed in the United States. For information, see this consumer update on color additives. As for ADHD, results on studies about a link between color additives and ADHD have been inconclusive, inconsistent, or difficult to interpret due to inadequacies in study design. For details, see “Do additives cause childhood hyperactivity?” in Food Ingredients and Colors.