Used canning jars and botulism

Robert_WAugust 5, 2011

I just started canning last year and this year found some used canning jars at a yard sale for a great price.

When I told a neighbor about this she said I shouldn't use the jars as they may have had something in them in the past that had botulism in them -- and now I am worried.

I would think that now that they are empty and exposed to oxygen, if I wash them and sanitize in dishwasher they should be safe -- won't they?

I know I'm being paranoid but to much out on the web theses days about botulism caution.


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I re-use my canning jars. It would be terribly expensive to have to buy new every season. Not to mention wasteful!


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 3:28PM
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Yes, wash and sterilize the jars, they'll be fine. Actually, your dishwasher very well may not sterilize, that takes a bath in boilng water.

Botulism is very real, but very, very rare, so your chances of contamination are miniscule.

in 2009 according to the CDC, there were 11 cases. 3 in Washington State from home canned green beans, 3 in Washington and Minnesota from homecanned asparagus and two in California from home canned tuna. The other three were undefined in origin.

There are other types of botulism, including wound botulism (all but two cases of the wound botulism were injection drug users) and 83 ccases of infant botulism, such as those associated with feeding infants honey.

So, take those 11 cases of food borne botulism and figure there are about 300 million people in the US and your chances are something like one in 27 million or so? Well, give or take a few million...

So, you do what you are comfortable with, I'd use them after sterilization and not think twice.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 3:37PM
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Posted by Annie "---in 2009 according to the CDC, there were 11 cases. 3 in Washington State from home canned green beans, 3 in Washington and Minnesota from homecanned asparagus and two in California from home canned tuna. The other three were undefined in origin.


To put things in perspective, over 30,000 traffic fatalities every year.

Don't go out of your house!!!


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:12PM
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People reuse them all the time, you just need to wash them and boil them. I'm assuming boil for about 5 minutes. I don't know how anything would live through being boiled!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:27PM
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Actually, dcarch, that post was one that I tried to update and Gardenweb wouldn't let me. The final three cases were isolated cases, one in Ohio from homecanned greens, one from homecanned corn and one from homecanned soup.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:38PM
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Used canning jars that are sterilized won't present a problem for botulism. We are around botulism all the time - it's in the soil. It has to be under the right conditions for it to form a toxin - it's the toxin we have a problem with. If you sterilize the jars and heat process the food in them properly, any chance for your food to develop a botulism toxin aren't any greater with used jars then using brand new jars.

We do take a precaution with low-acid foods AFTER they are canned and before we consume the foods in them. Before we taste or eat any low-acid foods that have been home-canned, we heat the food to a boil for 10-minutes at altitudes below 1,000 ft. Add 1-minute of boiling time for each additional 1,000 ft. of elevation. The exceptions are spinach and corn which need to be boiled for 20-minutes at ANY altitude.

Where I find more problems with used canning jars is when they are really old. The more years jars have been in service and heat processed over and over, then stored in temperature extremes, the glass becomes fragile and can easily shatter in the canner, or if you bump them when removing them from the canner. Check the rims for chips and cracks before using them for canning.

Be sure to check out the link below for more information.


Here is a link that might be useful: Colorado State University Extension - Botulism

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:39PM
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Don't do a lot of canning... mostly tomatoes when neighbors bring them over when they're up to their knees in them. I just peel,squash/chunk, and process. Sometimes b&b pickles. They're both high in acid to begin with.

Was talking to sister and saying I was gonna jar up left-over chili... one of those things you just CANNOT make a small batch of. She advised me to pressure can?!? ANything containing meat has to be canned under pressure. I use pressure cooker... a regular model that only holds 4 pints at a time. Takes longer than hot water boil method... maybe 45-50 minutes, but once that top peice starts rattling, I just set time and walk away.

As for used jars... agree with previous poster about checking for chips or cracks. Once they've been throughly washed/scrubbed, run thru dishwasher, sterilized before filling... not a problem. I collect the "old" jars... especially blue ones and would NEVER use them for canning. I have had success reusing jars with lids with that pop-up button on top... like from pickles or salsa... button pops down just like canning lids. Have used pint and quart jars from mayo a lot... Ball/Kerr rings and lids fit fine. Have lost 1-2 to cracking... just made a bit of a mess in canning pot. Think it's becasue those jars just aren't as thick as the real canning ones.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 5:33PM
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okay, but what if you find a can of pickled green beans in the back of the pantry that says 2009?

Eat or not to eat?

I reuse canning jars...often for soy candles...but also for canning..

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 5:40PM
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OK, I am a bad Master Food Preserver. Contrary to accepted guidelines...Terri, I toss my canned goods at five years. If the seal is good and tight, it's safe to use. After a year it's a quality lose color and texture. I also use non-regulation jars. When I started canning the local salad dressing company sold their 12 oz. misprints for $1 /dozen. I've used them for waterbathing for lots of years. They're way stouter than today's canning jars. I love the size for relish and salsa.

GL, that's one of the few things USDA has relaxed on. Unless it's changed in the last couple of years, they say if you us their guidelines, boiling before serving is an 'added measure of safety'. I don't worry about our own canned goods, and I toss anything vegie or 'iffy' that we're given. We'll eat gifted jams and jellies. Well, and salsas etc., but I pH test 'em first.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 9:17PM
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As KatieC pointed out, the timing is a quality issue, not a safety issue. If you canned it safely, it's still safe after two years. But, do you ant to eat it? ?two years, I'd eat it, but Mother found some strawberry jam that was canned in the 80s. It was gray, it was tasteless, but it was still sealed up and so probably safe. I sure didn't want to eat it, though!

And like katiec, I only eat canned low acid food that I know the source or canned myself, I'd never pick up a jar of canned stuff at the Amish roadside stand or the local farm market or even, for that matter, a couple of my elderly aunts'. Jam and jelly is fine but a bunch of family members got sick eating pickled mushrooms at Aunt LulaBelle's, so pickles aren't necessarily safe either.

Given the number of food recalls, from the salmonella in peanut butter to the botulism from carrot juice to the lastest e coli in ground turkey, I think my homecanned stuff is a lot safer than the commercial food supply.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 10:34PM
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Okay, I'll nibble a few and see if I feel the effects.. ;)

I've got jams that are 09 as well..I just opened my last tayberry and it was as delish as it should be..

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 2:15AM
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I'm a "bad Master Food Preserver" and Master Food Volunteer. I was taught in both courses the need to boil low-acid foods is still a precautionary measure suggested for "foods not canned according to the recommendations in this publication [Complete Guide to Home Canning] or not canned according to other USDA-endorsed recommendations". Even though the Ball Blue Book follows the USDA standards for their recipes, they don't cover the safety of foods that are NOT canned in Ball/Kerr jars - as it states the the Ball Blue Book (which few people doing home canning read, or realize there is the disclaimer).

I still suggest it for all new home canners and older home canners as well; because they all tend to "go-off-the-reservation" when it comes to using tested recipes. If you get in the habit of boiling low-acid food, you won't have to remember was this Aunt LulaBelle's untested recipe, or was this a USDA tested recipe? Was it in a Kerr/Ball jar or a recycled mayo jar? Or as a cover-your-backside because your pressure canner isn't working properly.

Home canned foods don't get better with age like wine and cheese. Between harvesting and canning the foods begin losing their vitamins. As much as half of them if it isn't properly stored in a refrigerator before canning. The heating process destroys from 1/3 to 1/2 of vitamins A and C, thiamin, and riboflavin. Once in storage (depending on the temperature of storage) additional losses of those sensitive vitamins are from 5-20% PER YEAR. Old canned goods are more often than not perfectly safe to consume. Although the jar being seal proves nothing other than the jar is sealed, not that there isn't any botulism toxin- another mistake people make. And as already pointed out the color, texture and flavor alter over time - more so on some foods than others. But maybe it's only me - the health nut talking - why would anyone want to consume "dead" food with so little nutrition in it. It's a waste of energy to boil it for 10 minutes - where it loses even more nutrition. But then, I'm a thinker, not a risk taker. I'm inclined to be over cautious when I teach classes - dot all the i's and cross all the t's kinda gal. I want canning mistakes to fall squarely on the home canner, not me as an instructor because I left out the part about boiling low-acid foods.


    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 6:42AM
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I don't can, but have a question on safety. Don't I recall it is important to always buy new lids - not to reuse them? The lids, not the rings. The thought being that once the lid is popped it doesn't seal as well again.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 3:13PM
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Yes, kathleen, lids should be new. The sealing compound on them wasn't designed to be used more than once, and that layer gets thinner every year, I think.

I do a lot of things to save money, but re-using canning lids isn't one of them, although I reuse rings and I have canning jars that belonged to Grandma 40 years ago that still work fine.


    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 10:51PM
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