Preserving Food – and how to avoid botulism

Preserving excess food is one of the cornerstones of a sustainable lifestyle.  I used to do a lot of preserving of stone fruit when I lived in country Victoria, but those days are gone, along with the antique Fowlers preserving set.

Now that we are trying to establish a permaculture lifestyle I think the time has come to get back to preserving food, not least so we have a more varied back-up larder to increase our food independence.

There was a good blog post by Farmer Liz over at Eight Acres the other day, with consideration of the pros and cons of preserving fruit, vegetables, and meat.  Farmer Liz concluded that with our climate (Southeast Queensland) allowing us to produce vegetables pretty much all year round, there’s no reason to preserve vegetables.

Meat isn’t usually preserved (canned) in Australia, possibly because it’s always available (if you are getting yours from the butcher or supermarket) and can always be dried or smoked.  Personally I’d rather store my meat by keeping it on the hoof (or claw) till it’s needed.  If we buy meat in bulk we tend to freeze it, and when we finally get some chooks, if we ever have to kill more than one then they’ll go in the freezer too.

Speaking of meat, we just bought a quarter of a Low-line Angus and it’s in the freezer now, all bagged up in daily serves.  We have friends who raise this breed of beef cattle in an ecologically sustainable (pasture fed on cell grazing) and humane way, and market them by the quarter.  Not that you have to buy a front quarter or a back quarter, but you get a quarter of all the cuts from the animal.  It’s a nice feeling to know where our meat comes from and how it was raised, even to the point of having seen the paddocks that it grazed.  The fact that we are supporting friends who are members of our community is an additional consideration.  More and more farmers seem to be changing over to specialty marketing of sustainably produced bulk meat.

Aren’t we worried about blackouts and losing all the food in the freezer?  Not while we are off the grid and on solar power – and own a generator that can take over from the solar batteries if the need ever arises (it hasn’t).

When the floods hit in 2011 (remember the disastrous Grantham/Toowoomba floods in the early part of that year) we were cut off for days, and when we eventually got out to the supermarket pretty much all the shelves were bare.  All of the people on the electricity grid had experienced days of no power, but our solar power kept right on going.  We didn’t even have to run the generator to top up the batteries (I thought about doing it, just to be on the safe side, but a mouse had made its home in the alternator and it and the wiring got fried when I turned the generator on).  Anyway, we had a quarter of a cow in the freezer and about three-months’ supply of non-perishables in the pantry, so being cut off wasn’t a problem.

The subject of preserving meat always starts a discussion on botulism.  Botulism is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can occur in the soil, the bottoms of waterways, or in the intestines of mammals such as humans, cattle and horses.  The spores are not killed by boiling.  However botulism is uncommon because special, rarely obtained conditions are necessary for botulinum toxin production from C. botulinum spores, including an anaerobic, low-salt, low- acid, low-sugar environment at ambient temperatures – the kind of habitat you might find in a container of badly preserved meat, for instance.

While I was thinking about preserving, Northwest Edible Life (another of my regular reads) came out with a post on “How Not to Die from Botulism”.  It’s a must-read if you are doing any preserving, and is useful generally if you are regularly preparing or storing food.  You can find the blog here  and you can download a full-size pdf file of the poster below here.

Avoiding botulism

3 thoughts on “Preserving Food – and how to avoid botulism

    • Hi Liz. Good to see you here. I find your site very very helpful as well as being interesting. I am in awe of the way you can lead a busy life and still find time to put together such a regular and great blog. I have long lapses when I am just too busy to find the time – like right now when we have two fantastic WWOOFers, so I’m working alongside them every day and then usually having long conversations over dinner. Result is that the blog gets put on hold for the duration. But please keep up your flow of posts, I look forward to them. Cheers Gordon.

  1. I had a comment via email from Carol, a microbiologist, who said:
    [The poster] is very well done, although it does not mention the importance of starting with clean jars, dust being a common source of spores. While botulism does pose a risk, I think it is important that people understand its nature and how to avoid being exposed to it, rather than being fearful and not preserving food at all.

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