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.


Delfim Peixoto said...

I loved your page!

Stuff You Should Know said...

I can't say I disagree.