How to Detect Spoilage in Home-Canned Foods

7 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Canning and Preserving

When canning foods, the chances of food spoilage are greatly reduced when you follow the precise guidelines for preserving methods. You can detect food spoilage by visually examining your jars. If you suspect, for any reason, that your food is spoiled or just isn’t right, don’t taste it. Also, just because your food doesn’t look spoiled, doesn’t mean that it’s not.

Review the following checklist. If you can answer “true” for each of the following statements, your food should be safe for eating:

  • The food in the jar is covered with liquid, is fully packed, and has maintained the proper headspace.

  • The food in the jar is free from moving air bubbles.

  • The jars have good, tight seals.

  • The food has maintained a uniform color.

  • The food isn’t broken or mushy.

  • The liquid in the jar is clear, not cloudy, and free of sediment.

After your food has passed the previous checklist, examine your jars more closely. If you discover spoilage during any step of the following process, properly dispose of your product.

  1. Hold the jar at eye level.

  2. Turn and rotate the jar, looking for any seepage or oozing from under the lid that indicates a broken seal.

  3. Examine the food surface for any streaks of dried food originating at the top of the jar.

  4. Check the contents for any rising air bubbles or unnatural color.

    The food and liquid should be clear, not cloudy.

  5. Open the jar.

    There shouldn’t be any spurting liquid.

  6. Smell the contents of the jar.

    Take note of any unnatural or unusual odors.

  7. Look for any cottonlike growth, usually white, blue, black, or green, on the top of your food surface or on the underside of the lid.

Spoiled low-acid food may exhibit little or no visual evidence of spoilage. Treat any jars that are suspect as if they contained botulism toxins. Never use or taste any canned food that exhibits signs of spoilage or that you suspect is spoiled.

Removing the screw bands from your cooled, sealed jars before storing them allows you to easily detect any broken seals or food oozing out from under the lid that indicates spoilage.

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