Don't Give Food Poisoning In Your Gift Basket

Throughout December, many people exchange homemade treats and other goodies as gifts.  But if you're not careful, you could be giving your loved ones food poisoning.

Canning is a year-round tradition for Delores Tucker.

"There's been canning in my family all my life," she said.

But even after 20 years of canning jams, fruits, and vegetables, she still uses some instructions to make sure the food is properly sealed in, and the bacteria is sealed out.

"It tells you how many minutes each fruit and vegetable is supposed to be water-bathed or pressure-cooked," she said.

Jars containing pre-cooked items need a boiling water bath to kill off the spores that produce toxic botulism -- a food poison that could be deadly.  Pressure cooking is often the method for fresh items.  A study from the University of Tennessee says this is the only safe way to can low-acid foods, like green beans and carrots.  But before you even get the food in the jars, Tucker has pertinent advice.

"Just make sure your jars are clean and your fruit's clean," she said.

If you're on the receiving end of any home-canned gifts, make sure you know what to look for.  If there's any portion of the food that's sticking up out of the liquid, or if it's discolored, it's probably not safe.  Also, listen for the pop when you open it.

"When you open that jar, if it don't open like it's been sealed good, throw it away.  Don't even take a chance on eating it," Tucker said.

Now's the time of year when lots of first-time canners try their hand at it, but remember -- canning is a science, not an art.  Make sure you know what you're doing.

"I would get me a book and I would set down and study it.  Even I go over to my book once in a while to refresh myself on how things are done," Tucker said.

Homemade goods that are properly sealed can have a shelf life of about two years.  If you have concerns over items in your gift basket, or if you need help canning correctly, you can use this link.

You can also learn more about proper and incorrect canning methods here.