You asked for it … you got it!
Yes, Dear Reader … the world of canning cooties contains a veritable hoard of things that can infect your food, your canning, and your body … that can cause everything from a mild stomach upset … all the way to blindness, the loss of limbs, or even death. I joke here about Canning Cooties! … but the reality is … bacteria, viruses, yeasts, molds, and parasites are no laughing matter. However, in an attempt to entertain you while I’m educating you about cooties in general … I’ve pulled out my artist’s tools … and added some visual aids to help you remember the different varieties.
Let’s take them alphabetically, shall we?
Campylobacter Jejuni causes more cases of food poisoning every year in the U.S. than any other Canning Cootie! That’s because–depending on the study–20-100% of the retail chickens tested were contaminated with C. Jejuni. It’s commonly found inside the bowels of otherwise healthy chickens, but modern poultry production methods (especially where contaminated chicken carcasses are cooled down in a vat of water with other, initially-uncontaminated carcasses) routinely cause this wide-spread bacterial contamination. It rarely causes death, but some of the complications include spontaneous abortions, reactive arthritis, septic poisoning, organ infections, uremic problems, and a lot more.
We’ve all heard of Botulism … well, this Canning Cootie is the source! It shows no preference to any one food group because it’s commonly found in most of them. Only high acid foods seem to be immune to infestation. When ingested, symptoms usually present themselves rapidly, usually within 18-24 hours … but some slower cases (where symptoms don’t appear for days) can often lead to mis-diagnosis. Untreated, most people recover … but paralysis and even death can result in individuals who are particularly weak or susceptible.
Historically, raw milk was to blame for a lot of E. coli problems in a lot of different cultures–and hamburger meat held the title of #1 E. Coli threat in the U.S.–but it’s recently been surpassed by spinach, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce … in other words, produce is more likely to be the culprit these days … not the meat or dairy supply. Undiagnosed and untreated E. coli outbreaks are normally “self-limiting” … which means exactly what you think it means … but some cases can progress into something called hemorrrhagic colitis … which also means exactly what you think it means … and it’s every bit as deadly as it sounds, too.
Listeria–in all its varieties–is especially dangerous because … in addition to all the food-borne sources listed above … up to 10% of the population lives with a listeria outbreak inside their own intestines, one that doesn’t cause them any obvious discomfort. It’s also one of the hardest Canning Cooties to kill using heat, so you have this cutie to blame for some of the longest pressure-canning times on the charts. Untreated, a severe listeria infection can cause meningitis, spontaneous abortion, septic poisoning, and more.
Honestly, there are just too many parasites for me to even begin to list them here. We know of some of the common ones–tapeworms and other digestive worms, trichinosis in pork–but some of them have seemingly unpronounceable names like Giardia duodenalis, Cryptosporidium parvum, Cyclospora cayetanensis, and Toxoplasma gondii … just to list a few. They not only infest our world, they also infest our foods … and can cause anything from a bad day … to a last day!
Because most animals carry a form of Salmonella in their bodies, infestations have historically been tied to meat and dairy foods, and to handing pets without proper sanitation, but–with the growth of factory farming–that same infestation has become more common in fruits and vegetables in the last decade or so, too. Untreated, Salmonella cases usually clear up on their own, but people develop joint problems and arthritis after exposure.
Shingella has been found in all branches of the food supply industry. Professionals speculate that workers not washing their hands can account for nearly all infestations that have been recorded. And not only is Shingella contagious when you encounter it in food … once you’re sick and running a fever … you can give the resulting case of Shingellosis to someone else. How’s that for a vicious Canning Cootie?
Staph has spent a lot of time in the news recently, especially the MRSA version! It becomes more drug-resistant with each generation. Most people don’t automatically think of Staph as something that causes food poisoning, but the reality is … many modern cases of Staphylococcus Aureus start as burgers or fries at your local fast-food place … or pretty much any food you got any place where someone has touched your food without washing their hands first.
Ever wonder why the processing times on seafood are so much longer than red meat or chicken? Meet Vibrio vulnificus, a particularly vicious Canning Cootie, found mostly in salt water and in salt water fish and seafood. As always, small children or people with pre-existing health conditions are upwards of eighty times more likely to develop a serious case of food poisoning when exposed to the Vibrio strain. Worse, even with treatment, many people develop life- and limb-threatening infections, thanks to their exposure to this particularly nasty little Canning Cootie.
Again, viruses don’t necessarily spring instantly to mind when someone starts talking about classic food poisoning, but–needless to say–viruses can easily be present in the foods we eat every day. The seasonal flu, the common cold, some of the more exotic viruses … all it takes is someone along the line to stop being diligent about washing their hands … to pass that virus down the entire food chain. And–just like with all the other canning cooties, and speaking in general terms here–a proper canning cycle in a BWB or pressure canner can also kill any viruses present in your food … in addition to bacteria, yeast, mold, parasites, and more.
And, last but certainly not least, Yersinia enterocolitica is often present on raw pork, an infestation often caused by inadequate cleanliness during the first stages of meat processing. Small children and the elderly are–typical of canning cooties–far more often the victims of Yersinia than healthy adults. Simple soap and water hand washing can prevent transmission of the disease, and–needless to say–so can proper cooking … including a proper canning cycle.
Finally, let me add that–in order to can foods properly in your own home–you don’t necessarily need to know everything there is to know about all the different Canning Cooties. I joke about them, but I don’t expect you to know everything about them …. and I’d never give you a test on how to spell them either! We’d all fail! However, it helps to have a general knowledge of the variety and scope of the Canning Cooties you may encounter in your own canning … and all the ways to prevent them … in order to help you keep an eye out on your own habits and processes …. so that you keep yourself and your canning safe!