Sunday, March 19, 2006

Are You Trying to Kill Yourself or Your Dinner Guests???

While blog browsing today, I came upon a recipe for hot pepper oils for home growers written by John Laumer of Philadelphia for a site for organicophiles. Being the capiscumophile I am I found the blog by blogsearching "hot peppers". Why am I blogging about it??? Because homemade hot pepper oils are dangerously friendly to the clostridium botunlinum bacteria; better known to the rest of us as botulism.

Botulism is a disease caused by the flourishing of the clostridium botulinum bacteria. There are numerous outbreaks of foodborne botulism occuring almost every year and more often than not, they are caused by eating contaminated home-canned foods. An average of 110 cases are reported every year.

Symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. Untreated, these early symptoms can progress to paralysis, which ultimately is why you want to be very careful not to get botulism to begin with. Paralysis, when it gets into your lungs is a one way ticket to death. If you know what I mean.

Botulism symptoms, according to the CDC, occur between 18 and 36 hours of eating contaminated foodstuffs. BUT, they warn that they can occur as early as 6 hours after eating something tainted or as late as 10 days later.

Botulism treatment requires injection of an antitoxin and although the antitoxin can slow the effects of the botulism, reversing it fully can take up to several weeks. The good news is that whereas botulism induced paralysis can be fatal, over the last 50 years, deaths from it have been reduced from 50% to less than 8%. Oh, the miracles of modern medicine. Cases of severe botulism can put you on a breathing machine for as long as it takes for the antitoxin to allow your system to return to normal. That can take several months. Someone who survives botulism poisoning can have fatigue and shortness of breath for years and require long-term therapy in order to completely recover.

In other words, botulism is a bad thing.

The good news is that botulism is easily prevented.

More often than not, when one is talking about home-canning procedures, one needs worry about botulism for low-acid content foods. I, being a hot pepper afficianado need not worry about such things, I'm not about to home-can anything low-acid. Indeed, if I'm to home-can anything it will be hot peppers. Well, now technically, in my case, I suppose "home-canning" is actually "professional processing", but, well, you get the idea. At any rate, although our "professional processing" is just that, my company uses "home-canning" methods, only on a more commercial scale.

Peppermaster hot sauces, to-date, doesn't have any peppers packed in oil, yet. And, truth be told, the reason we don't is primarily because of botulism.

Strict hygienic procedures are required to avoid contamination of foods and even so, once processed, oils infused with garlic, herbs or hot peppers should be refrigerated. Fortunately, botulism is destroyed by high temperatures, so, persons who eat such foods should consider boiling the food for 10 minutes before eating it to ensure safety. As reticent as I am to get involved in hot peppered oils, the Peppermaster assures me that when we do so, this won't be a concern of ours.

My fear, if you will, is that our customers will take our lovely peppered oils and then have to boil them for ten minutes in order to be sure that they won't get botulism. And of course, after reading the CDC website, one might come to this conclusion.

After much research, I've come to the conclusion that in order to properly put peppers into oil, one must be very concerned about moisture levels. Avoiding at all costs, following the FDA's recommendation that one add microbial inhibitors or acidifying agents. We will NOT be using citric acid; or microbial chemical anythings.

If you are going to home-can your peppers and pack them in oil, do yourself a favour and add citric acid. Then, when you boil the product, do so for no less than 10 minutes and add five minutes for every 5000 feet of elevation you live above sea level.

If you want to be really safe, simply blanch your peppers, cover them with water and then boil the jar for 15 minutes. Then, you can safely add the oil right before cooking... Bye bye botulism risk.

Me out.

Ve Duss Done Reach...

"Ve duss done reach" is how one might say "We're home" in the Bahamas.

Finding goat peppers on New Providence Island, last year, was an exercise in futility. We kept being told that we could find them easily at the vegetable exchange but for some reason, the government officials who run the exchange simply didn't have the goat peppers or didn't want us to have them.

This years trip, came out with slightly better results. You'll be pleased to know that although we didn't manage to come home with any goat peppers in our pockets, we did manage to find two steady suppliers. One is growing some pretty amazing things in the very rocky ground of the island will be shipping peppers to us this spring. The other, on our enticement is planting knowing he now has a sure market for his produce. We can thank our Hurricane Mash purchasers for this project.

What was most fascinatingly interesting to me is how they farm in the islands. They call it "pothole farming" and until you see it, you've never see anything like it. It's a wonder they can grow anything at all. And you should have seen the incredible fruit and vegetables growing out of these potholes. You simply can't imagine what kind of quality they are managing to get out of these literal holes in the ground. And because the ground is essentially a coral bed, pothole farming is the preferred method of farming in a lot of islands in the Caribbean. Truth be told, when you see what Caribbeans have to work with for soil, then farming any other way seems ludicrous.

This is Caribbean-style Pothole Farming:

Not to be confused with Prairie Pothole Farming:

Where I come from, one first clears the land, removing all rocks, tree stumps, and anything else that might break the tines on a roto-tiller. Then, they till the soil, preparing a bed of soft moist earth to plant in. In the Bahamas, short of building a raised bed of earth, which is very expensive and time consuming, one simply plants in the pockets of soil that are found in the porous coral bed of the islands. In other words, in the potholes. It's a pretty darned cool way to grow things.

And we now have two farmers pothole farming peppers and native Bahamian limes just for us.

We arrived in the Bahamas to beautiful weather. Our flight to the out-islands was uneventful.

Our cottage turned out to be a delightful shade of coral pink.

and the beach was delightfully, 200 yards from the back door, as promised.

It took two weeks before we found any goat peppers at all, but then it was as if the heavens themselves had opened up and dropped manna onto our doorstep, because from that point forward, there were peppers everywhere! Bird peppers, finger peppers, and yes, even goat peppers.

We had the opportunity to meet several Bahamian hot sauce makers. None of whom are interested in exporting, unfortunately for North American chiliheads.

But to make it up to everyone we've made arrangements to share our island. If you find yourself with time to visit the out-islands of the Bahamas and would like a quiet little cottage a stone's throw from the sea, I can get you set up.

Me out.