By: Pooja Sharma

It is that time of the year again. And with gift giving tradition switched on in full swing, recipes for canned breads and gift items have reappeared on the shelves. While they look attractive, easy and unique for gift giving, they are not that great when considered from food safety point of view. Some of us are under impression that they are safe and secure since they are properly canned, but in reality they are not shelf stable and cannot be stored safety at the room temperature.

Canned breads or cakes are generally made by pouring the batter into the glass canning jars and then, baking them in the oven. Once the cake or bread is properly baked, it is then taken out of the oven then “sealed” and cooled it to create a vacuum. Some of the recipes even claim that the end product will stay fresh for up to a year. We are here to tell you, NO! That is not true.

Bread & Botulism

The microorganism that you should be concerned about is Clostridium Botulinum. These recipes have little to no acid and also have low-oxygen, thus creating a perfect fun loving environment for the Clostridium Botulinum spores to germinate and multiply. When this bacteria germinates, it produces a dangerous neurotoxin that even in tiny amounts can lead to a fatal disease called Botulism.

Commercially produced canned breads and cakes cannot be safely duplicated at home. For making these breads and cakes in jars and canning them, the companies use additives, preservatives and follow processing and handling controls that cannot be done at home. They need to follow safety guidelines which helps keep these foodborne illnesses at home. Clearly, this process cannot be replicated at home. Safety tests are also conducted for each of the recipe of commercial products. Before buying any commercial products that are canned, you should look for preservatives and additives that would restrict the microbial growth and also meet all the labeling requirements of the commercial foods.

In addition to the risk of botulism, there is a risk of broken glass getting into the cakes and breads while baking. Canning jars are intended to use for moist heat, hot water baths or pressure canners. They are not designed to withstand the thermal heat that the dry oven inflicts upon them.

What is Botulism?

Botulism is rare, but life threatening. Almost 35-65% of the patients who suffer from Botulism, and do not get immediate and effective treatment, die. It is so dangerous that each case is considered a health emergency.

The neurotoxins that release as a result of sporulation prevents the neurotransmitters of the infected individual to function properly. As the disease progresses, a person experiences paralysis from top to bottom. When paralysis reaches the chest, death can occur if the victim is not ventilated properly. Botulism is treated by an antitoxin that blocks circulation of the toxin into the bloodstream of the patient.

3 of the Botulism FACTS to keep in mind this Christmas:

  • Clostridium Botulinum can be present on almost any kind of food that has little to no acid. Spores of Clostridium Botulinum can piggyback on any foods (including all the fruits and vegetables) that contain very little to no acid. Some examples of vegetables and fruits that have very little acid are green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and cabbage. Other examples of low-acid foods include mushroom, eggs, meats, and fish. (This is not a complete list)
  • Most of the Botulism outbreaks in US are due to improper canning of food mostly at home. If you are planning on canning food at home or want to indulge in home-canned food, it is essential that you follow proper food safety guidelines.
    • Store the home canned foods for only the recommended amount of time. Label and store the jars between 50 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Do not can food that you do not plan using within an year.
    • When in doubt, throw it out. Throw the food if the container is leaky, has bulges or the food inside looks moldy and smells bad.
    • Throw out the food in a non-recyclable trash. Make sure that it is properly covered and is out of reach of any pets and people.

Occasionally, commercially produced foods can cause botulism outbreaks too. Sausages, seafood products, canned vegetables and meat products have been the most frequent sources of botulism.

  • Clostridium Botulinum needs a low oxygen, low acid environment to grow and multiply. When we put low acid or non-acidic foods in a low oxygen environment (like in a home canning jar), the spores have a perfect environment to grow and multiply. Similarly, when you cover low acid foods with oil, it reduces or eliminates the availability of oxygen. This again creates an environment loved by Botulism spores.

What can you do instead of using the canned cakes and breads?

Instead of putting the baked cakes and bread in a can, you can bake the product in a regular baking pan and gift it to your known one to have it immediately or refreeze it. Cakes, bread and almost all baked good freeze well. You can then, wrap the baked goods in an attractive gift wrapping paper before gifting it. Just label the packet or inform them to freeze it before they put it along with other gifts and forget about it.

There are no safe and reliable methods that are available for baking and selling cakes or bread in a jar that can be stored at room temperature and home cooked. It is best to say that these products are not recommended at this point of time.

Gifting bread and cakes is a part of age old tradition of Christmas gift giving that should not be let go of. You should just avoid canning them. Place them in proper tins and baskets to make a perfect ‘safe’ gift this Christmas.