Sunday, April 13, 2014

Home Canning, More Quality Information.

This next post was taken from Backwoods Home Blog. written by Lee 01-18-2010.  We don't like taking information from another blog but when it comes to canning and safety we feel a need to help spread quality information. We are not canning experts and only express our experiences on this blog.  Always refer to USDA or FDA guidelines when processing for your family.  Always reheat before you eat!

Make your own decision.

Caution: Do not add noodles or other pasta, rice, flour, cream, milk or other thickening agents to home canned soups. If dried beans or peas are used, they must be fully rehydrated first. 
National Center for Home Food Preservation

Not all types of homemade soups can be successfully preserved for long-term storage; we cannot offer you options for canning soups thickened with flours or cornstarches, or containing rice, pasta or cream.

There is not a research tested recipe for safely canning chicken noodle soup at home. You can can chicken in broth and then add noodles when you open the jar, but it is not recommended to can soups containing noodles, rice and pasta. The problem is that with home pressure canners we can not get the heat penetration into thick soups containing noodles, rice and pasta to ensure a safe product. Food manufacturers are able to do so with high temperature/pressure retort sterilization machines, but we do not have the capability for doing some foods, like chicken noodles soup, safely at home.

Canning processes are determined for specific foods prepared by specific directions for a particular size of jar. The process time is determined based upon the length of time it takes to adequately heat the coldest spot on the jar. The following factors have an effect on how heat penetrates through the food product:

How the food is prepared - the size of pieces, with or without the peel

The canning liquid consistency

Jar size

That is why it is so important to use a reputable, tested recipe and follow directions exactly. If you add extra sugar or fat, if you do not prepare the food according to the directions, or if you add thickeners like starch, rice or noodles, then the process time tested as being accurate to heat even the coldest spot in the jar may not be safe.


Again, the choice is yours. 

FWIW, I grew up on a farm where my Mom used the canning methods taught to her by my Grandmother. Everything was water bath canned. On the one hand, we didn't get sick from her canning. On the other hand, I wonder how many times we ate food in which botulism toxin was neutralized because my Mom demanded that every canned food had to be held at a full rolling boil for 10 minutes before consuming it. 

With regards to that, I can't see the point of adding noodles/pasta to a jar and then needing to boil it for the approximate time it takes to cook noodles to add to a finished dish.

I'm sorry, if this comes off like a rant. It's because I remember when a family of 4 died from botulism, not far from us, when I was young. My main concern is with those new to canning, who may not know the risks involved with not following current guidelines. Once they know the guidelines, then, it's their choice as to how much risk they are willing to take with canned foods to feed their families.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

CHEF TALK Canning and Retort in the Culinary World and at Home. PART 2


Canning and retort in the culinary world and at home

In part 1 about retort or canning of food products, I explained the importance of temperatures and cooking times during the canning process. Too low temperatures and too little cooking time result in high heat resistant bacteria to survive and worse, to grow at ambient temperatures.
For many chefs this means that canned foods are most likely overcooked and overcooked food means no more healthy food properties. Most chefs tend to use fresh products, which is a good thing but there is a flip side to the coin.
Combing retort foods with fresh food can well be a good choice in home cooking especially when you are pressed with time and on a tight budget. 
I also highlighted that vitamins are often more heat resistant than bacteria. Specialized canning companies use the products when their vitamin levels are at the highest i.e. within 2 days after harvest. 
University studies show that the nutritional values of some canned foods are comparable or sometimes even higher than fresh produce. Vegetables like green beans and spinach lose up to 75% of their vitamin C after 7 days of harvest. Processing the harvest, packing, transportation and putting the product on the shelf of a supermarket takes up most of that time. 
The use of canned foods can therefore be beneficial to a healthy diet. Tomatoes are a good example of a food sometimes better canned than fresh. The heart healthy antioxidant Lycopene found in tomatoes is greater in canned tomatoes due to the heat from the canning process, than the levels of lycopene found in fresh hothouse tomatoes. The levels appeared to be 3 times higher.
Canning or retort can also be beneficial to your budget. Seasonal fresh produce is not year round on the shelves and if available, the extra cost from transportation makes the price high and for many, out of reach. 

Canned products like tomatoes, beans, some vegetables and fruits can be a helpful aide in home cooking. Self canning is therefore a good idea, definitely when you live in a part of the country where fresh produce is hard to come by or extremely pricey during the winter months.
The peak of harvest is the right and best time to get in to action. Seasonal products are then at their lowest price and easily available. If you have the opportunity to buy from local farmers you can get adventurous, buy cheap in bulk and mobilize the whole family. It will sure be a fun activity with everybody involved. 
Main advantage of self canning is that you decide what goes in the pouch.
The use of cans to retort might not be possible for most of us but the use of pouches for retort is very well possible. You need a retort pressure cooker, an investment that you may want to share with family members or other retort enthusiasts.
Retort pouches are specially designed for this purpose. The seal layer of retort pouches will give necessary leaking protection after you vacuum and seal the pouch. This special protection is needed to resist the high heat the pouches will be exposed to. Cooking times vary per product. So ensure to have the right information before you start.
Individual products or combined products like whole meals are suitable for retort. You can enjoy all the summer vegetables and fruits when the snow falls.
When you have your own produce you will get more creative in the kitchen and enjoy your own creations even more. 

Written for PMG by:

Professional Chef
Marinus Hoogendoorn
Culinary expert in recipe development   

VacUpack now accepts Bitcoin Payments.


Saturday, March 29, 2014


Valentine’s Day, a day for romance and surprising loved ones with something special. I did a bit of research about the history of Valentine’s Day and found that a certain Roman Emperor by the name of Claudius II,  who lived in the 3rd century decided that single men make better soldiers than married men. He came up with the idea to outlaw marriage for young men. That sounds like a pretty unreasonable idea to me but in these kinds of unfair sounding measures there is always help on the way.

Luckily for those poor young soldiers there was a priest by the name of Valentine who dared to take the risk and married young couples in secret. The Emperor figured out that this was happening and decided that the priest should be executed. A true sad story, but romantic also in a way, the priest was later given Sainthood and February 14 was declared St Valentine’s day by Pope Gelasius at the end of the fifth century. Many other romantic sounding stories have been written about Valentine’s Day but I could not find anything of interest about food becoming a part of the Valentine’s Day celebrations. Many stories about all the cards we send each other and how that all started, but where did the romantic dinner come from? I honestly do not know. What I do know is that organizing a romantic dinner for two is a great idea. I like the whole dinner idea a lot better than a bunch of roses. Stick to the roses but do not make them the centre piece of your Valentine celebrations. A romantic dinner for two should however be for two, not the two of you at a small table in a crowded restaurant. Dinner for two is dinner for two. February 14 falls on a Friday this year and if you are a hard working person, that can be just the most inconvenient day of the week to prepare a nice dinner for two. So I thought, let me help you a little bit.  If there is one thing that you do not want to happen on a day like Valentine’s Day it must be that something goes wrong with your planned dinner. I mean, you are all set, getting in a romantic mood and just when you are about to turn on the soft music …. you got it, that burned smell from the kitchen.    How do you avoid this from happening? First of all, make sure that all your cooking preparations are ready. Second, avoid a menu that requires you to spend half of the evening in the kitchen. You may end up with a dinner for one that way. A warm salad with smoked meat, e.g. duck breast, sounds like a nice starter. Then pan seared salmon with a fine type of pasta, e.g. linguine, cherry tomatoes, olives and broccoli florets and for dessert, Panna Cotta. Nice dinner. Now the execution:  You can make this whole recipe in advance. You just need to heat it up for a few minutes, except for the dessert of course.   

For the salad you will need: ½ Nos Green Bell Pepper, ½ Nos Yellow Bell Pepper, ½ Nos Red Bell Pepper, 1 Nos Shallot, ½ Nos Green Courgette (Zucchini), 100 Gr Smoked Duck breast (sliced), 100 Gr Soft goats cheese (Chèvre), Bunch Alfalfa sprouts, Dressing: 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, ½ Tsp Dijon mustard. Method: Mix the dressing ingredients, season with salt and pepper. Store in a container until use. Slice the bell peppers in strips. Cut the shallot in half and then into thin slices. Cut the zucchini lengthwise and then into half round slices. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a skillet, add the shallots and fry a few seconds, add the bell peppers and zucchini. Fry for half a minute. Add a little salt and pepper and remove from the pan onto a piece of kitchen paper towel. Leave to cool. When the mix has cooled the ingredients should be crunchy. Place the mix in a vacuum bag and vacuum seal. Keep chilled. Slice the duck breast thinly at a 45 degrees angle, vacuum seal in a separate vacuum bag and keep chilled.

For the main course you need:200 Gr Dry linguine1 Small bunch broccoli (cut into small florets)1 Nos shallot (cut into slices)8 Nos black olives (de-seeded)5 Nos cherry tomatoes (halved)2 Nos bone-less, skin-less, salmon steak (170 Gr each)1 Small bunch basil leaves (half chopped and the other half for garnish)Salt, pepper, olive oil

Method:Bring 2 liters of water to a boil in a 4 liter sized pot. Add some salt and cook the pasta as per the cooking instruction on the packing. Rinse cold, drain, sprinkle a bit of olive oil and mix, this is to stop the pasta from sticking together. You have about 400 gr of cooked pasta now.   Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a skillet, add shallots and the broccoli and fry at medium heat for 2 minutes.Add the olives and cherry tomatoes and mix.Add enough of the pasta for 2 portions, add the chopped basil leaves and mix well, season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.When the pasta has cooled, place it in a vacuum bag, vacuum and keep chilled.Heat 2 to 3 tbsp olive oil in a skillet.Season the salmon steaks with salt and pepper and fry the steaks for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.Remove from the pan, drain the steaks on a paper towel and cool.When the steaks have cooled down, place them in a vacuum bag and vacuum seal without squashing them. Keep chilled.

For the dessert you need:2 cups (1/2 l) heavy cream (or half-and-half)1/4 cup (50g) sugar1 teaspoons vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise1 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)3 tablespoons cold water250 gr frozen mixed berries100 gr sugar¼ cup rum

1. Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan.  Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.(If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then reheat the mixture before continuing.)2. Lightly oil four custard cups with neutral-tasting oil.3. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.4. Pour the very warm Panna Cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.5. Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared cups, then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours (but I let them stand at least four hours).  You can also pour the Panna Cotta mixture into wine goblets so you can serve them in the glasses, without unmolding. Step 6 is then also not necessary. 6. Run a sharp knife around the edge of each Panna Cotta and unmold each onto a serving plate, and garnish as desired.Boil the mixed berries with a few tablespoons of water, 100 gr sugar and the rum for 5 minutes. Leave to cool.So, everything is all done and ready to go.The only thing left to do is to make a pot of hot water on Valentine’s Day.Make sure your water is not boiling but in the region of 190 F or 90 CelsiusAdd the vegetables for the salad to the water for 4 to 5 minutes.Remove from the bag, divide them over two plates, crumble the cheese over the vegetables, top with the duck breast slices and garnish with the alfalva sprouts. Sprinkle some dressing over the dish and serve.  Do the same with the main course. Heat both bags 4 to 5 minutes in the hot water. Divide the pasta over two plates, top each plate with a salmon steak and garnish with a few basil leaves.

And your dessert, well that should not be a big thing anymore I think.Enjoy your Valentines Day.  
Written for PMG by: 
(Professional Chef) 
Marinus Hoogendoorn
Culinary expert in recipe development


Monday, February 24, 2014

CHEF TALK Retort and the Culinary Consequences Part 1


Retort and the culinary consequences

Unlike ‘Pasteurized’ cooked meat products where the survival of heat resistant micro organisms is accepted, the aim of sterilization is the destruction of all contaminating bacteria including their spores. Heat treatment must be intensive enough to inactivate/kill the most heat resistant micro organisms, which are the spores of Bacillus and Clostridium.
If spores are not completely inactivated, vegetative micro organisms will grow from the spores as soon as conditions are favorable again. Favorable conditions exist when the products are stored at ambient temperatures.
Temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius, usually between 100 degrees Celsius to 121 degrees Celsius are needed to achieve this goal depending on the product. These temperatures must be reached inside the product.
Surviving micro organisms can either spoil preserved meat products or produce toxins which cause food poisoning to consumers.
Clostridium is more heat resistant than Bacillus. Bacillus spore will die at 110 Celsius. Clostridium spores need 121 Celsius to be inactivated within a short period of time. If these temperatures cannot be reached within a given time, a longer time period must be applied.
From the microbial point of view it would be ideal to employ very intense heat to eliminate any form of micro bacterial activity in meat products. However, most meat products cannot be exposed to such intense heat without suffering.
Degradation of their sensory quality, such as very soft texture, jelly and fat separation, discoloration and undesirable taste will occur.
Loss of nutritional value, destruction of vitamins and protein structures will arise as well. Vitamins are hardier to heat than bacteria but not resistant to intense heat of this nature. In order to comply with the above aspects a compromise has to be found.
Sterilization must be intense enough for micro biological safety and moderate enough from the product quality point of view.

It is of extreme importance that products, meant for canning, that are of a mixed composition (meat and vegetables) are being exposed to a temperature of 121 Degrees Celsius. If not, these products will be exposed to undesirable bacterial growth at ambient temperatures.  
Retort pouches, which are containers made of aluminum or plastic coated nylon material are of growing importance in food preservation.  Thermo-laminated food pouches have a seal layer made of PP (Polypropylene) or PP – PE (Polyethylene) Polymer and the outside layer is usually made of nylon. They can be used for ready to eat meals, and sausages in brine.
The need for safe but not excessive heat treatment received in products needs some practical consideration. These are: Heat treatment temperature and heat treatment time. Different temperatures need different treatment times.
The high temperatures are achieved by injecting steam under pressure in specialized retort steam kettles. Sometimes a combination of boiling water and pressured steam is used.
The level of heat treatment received by a product is measured in the value F. F 1 means an exposure at 121 Celsius for 1 minute at the coldest point of the product. By F 2 this is 2 minutes and so on. The level of sterilization of a product can herewith be determined.
Complete safe canned products, pathogen free and no spoilage, should be produced with temperatures between F 4.0 to 5.5 with temperatures ranging between 110 and 130 Celsius. This will provide a shelf life at ambient temperatures of up to 4 years at storage temperatures below 25 Celsius.
In part 2 of this article I will have a closer look at the possibilities of applying retort in home cooking and some aspects of retort in the culinary world.      

Written for PMG by:

Professional Chef
Marinus Hoogendoorn
Culinary expert in recipe development   

Wednesday, February 19, 2014



 On the 31st of January, our Chinese friends celebrate the most auspicious festival of their calendar year. The Lunar year, as the Chinese New year is called, follows the cycle of the moon and the New Year date changes therefore every year. Every Chinese New Year is named after an animal from their Zodiac signs. This year they celebrate the year of the horse, bringing extra excitement for those born in the years, 1918, 30, 42, 54, 66, 78, 90, 2002 and 2014, the previous years of the horse.
Besides the Chinese, not many people celebrate Chinese New Year, I remember from my youth days seeing some Chinese lighting fire crackers just out of the blue, making me question why they were doing that, only to find out later that it was Chinese New Year.

I want to highlight this festival because the Chinese have a very interesting food culture. I admire their approach to life when it comes to food. The Chinese, as far as I know them, are very particular about their food, fresh is their key word. Chinese can be spotted in supermarkets or in any other fresh market, selecting vegetables like beans, piece by piece, the same goes for meats and seafood. If prawns are not fully intact and do not have a firm head, they will not buy. Any irregular spot on a squash and the fellow is rejected. It makes me wonder if anybody around the table will complain if one bean is longer than the other or if one prawn is bigger than the other but it is their way of approaching food.
Offering food in a small prayer house in front of their premises is a daily routine. Food signifies wealth, good luck, prosperity and fortune in Chinese belief. I must say that Chinese believe in practically everything, but food tops the lot.
An orange symbolizes the sun and the sun symbolizes gold, pointing to wealth. Cantonese Chinese compare many beliefs to the sound of certain words in their dialect. Wong means money in Cantonese, lai means come, so wong lai means, money comes. A pineapple is called ong lai, sounds like wong lai right?. You will then also see pineapples being offered, especially during Chinese New Year.        
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days. It ends with Chap Go Mai. Most businesses will close on the first three days of the New Year. It is considered to be bad luck when you open your business back up on an odd numbered day. The first day of Chinese New Year is traditionally a vegetarian day. On the seventh day a meal with seven different vegetables is prepared, each one of the seven signifies a meaning of luck and wealth. A sweet dessert with three colored round glutinous rice balls soaked in syrup represents togetherness in a family.    
There are two ‘must have’ delights the Chinese cannot do without during Chinese New Year. First is ‘Bak Kwa’, finely minced pork meat is marinated, spread thinly on bamboo mats and smoked for 2 hours over charcoal. It is then sliced into squares, Bak Kwa is grilled over charcoal again, mainly on the roadside before consumption, turning whole neighborhoods into one big smoking BBQ. It tasted somewhat sweet like five spice but is loved by all. Bak Kwa is traditionally made from pork but there are also chicken, duck and beef varieties. A small round version is considered golden coins and every time one eats a piece it means money in the pocket.
Secondly is Yee Sang, a raw fish salad with a wide selection of pickled and colored vegetables and sesame seeds to top it off. Yee Sang is served as the starter dish when the Chinese have their, must have, family reunion dinner on their New Year eve. All ingredients are tossed together with chopsticks by everybody in the family, at the table. The higher it is tossed the more luck and longevity for the coming year. Yee Sang is a great symbol of togetherness and harmony.
Have you ever noticed, by the way, that Chinese are generally very slim. I find it hard to find an overweight Chinese. Being overweight and obesity was only introduced in China when fast food was introduced. I have not mastered the Mandarin language but doubt if there is a character to describe obesity.
So if fresh is the key word to the Chinese approach to food or better their eating habits, then fresh must have some effect on our body weight. Chinese are known to work hard, from young age to old and have quite a bit of exercise doing so. They eat four times a day, not always the healthiest stuff also, lots of soya sauce, oyster sauce, flavoring salt and sugar in the dishes but it does not seem to hurt a lot when it comes to their body weight.
They eat a lot of soupy dishes. Noodle soups are popular in their diet but they also eat a fair bit of rice, protein and vegetables. What is the key for them not being overweight by the masses? Portioning, yes, the portions are moderate, eat when you are hungry, maybe. Fresh, yes.   
The Chinese approach to food is very similar to my definition of healthy eating. Steamed fish, stir fried crunchy vegetables, cooked at high heat, no overcooked stuff, quick and simple seasoned meats and poultry, tofu to complement some extra protein. Many of these dishes are very easy to prepare and lovely to eat. Great thing of this style of cooking is that you can apply it to Western cooking as well so you do not have to eat Chinese food every day.
When you use the pre prepared and vacuum sealing method to keep your vegetables and meats in optimum condition you are ready to go.

Try this simple recipe that can be used for both the Chinese and Western style of cooking.
Stir fried beef with mixed vegetables.
500 Gr Lean beef (thinly sliced)
12 Pcs Spring onion (sliced 1 inch long)
12 Slices Young ginger
1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
Oil for deep frying, Cilantro for garnish

2 Tbsp Soya sauce
1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
½ Tsp Baking powder
1 Tsp Sugar
5 Tbsp Water
1 Dessert spoon Corn starch

2 Tbsp Oyster sauce
½ Tbsp Soya sauce
1 Tsp Sugar
Black pepper

Marinate the beef slices with the marinade ingredients. Set aside for one hour. Or vacuum seal and keep until needed. 
Heat oil and deep fry the beef slices for 20 seconds. Remove from the oil
Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil and reheat.
Add spring onions and the ginger slices, stir fry 2 minutes.
Add beef slices and the rest of the seasoning ingredients.
If you like it with a bit more sauce, add a bit of water and thicken with cornstarch mixed with water.
Dish up and garnish with Cilantro sprigs.

½ Nos Medium onion (sliced)
2 Cloves Garlic (chopped)    
1 Bunch Broccoli (cut into small florets)
½ Nos Carrot (cut into wedges)
5 Nos Shi-Take Mushrooms (quartered)
1 Tbsp Oyster sauce
Black pepper

Steam the carrot wedges for 3 minutes and the broccoli florets for 2 minutes.  
Heat  2 to 3 tablespoons oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and garlic, fry for a minute.
Add the broccoli, carrots and mushrooms. Fry for another minute, add the oyster sauce and black pepper. Mix well.
Dish out and serve with the stir fried beef and rice. 

If you like this recipe Western style, simply omit the marinade and seasoning ingredients and cut the beef into steak size. Grill the steaks and treat the vegetables the same way but season with salt and pepper.
Great healthy dinner two ways, full use of vacuum sealing opportunities and last but not least, very tasty and you can use other meats as well.

Written for PMG by:

Professional Chef
Marinus Hoogendoorn
Culinary expert in recipe development


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Boiling Home - Canned Foods!

Taken from the March / April 2010 Backwoods Home Magazine.

"Ask Jackie

Boiling home-canned foods

Have always seen specific instructions to be sure to boil home canned vegetables for a certain number of minutes before using or even tasting them.  Is it necessary to boil home canned meats and soup stocks before using them? 

Ruth Marvin 
Goldendale, Washington 

Yes, it is recommended that we bring canned vegetables and meats up to a boiling temperature and hold them there for 10-15 minutes.... just to be sure that any possible bacteria is killed.  This can be done in the oven on the stovetop, or by frying 

Jackie " 

Thank you to our wonderful customers who have been passing along viable information and safety tips.  We sincerely appreciate the help.  


Re-Heat Before You Eat! Home Canning Safety.

This article was taken from the March April 2011 Backwoods Home Magazine.  

Thanks goes to our attentive and caring customer who sent us this information.  :)

Under Ask Jackie

The title was: Running the pressure canner without water.

Peter Regan of Beaverton, Oregon 

Wrote to Jackie about her response to another reader, concerning the lack of water in her canner.  We are posting here the entire article "retyped" as it mentioned retorts in the conversation and we feel the entire article is a very viable piece of information for home canners using not only jars but retorts also.
There is no FDA or USDA information for retort canning for the home canner.  We express our experiences, they have no scientific FDA or USDA backing.  Can at your own risk!

Running the pressure canner without water

I'm a regular cover-to-cover reader of BHM, and I really appreciate your section on food preparation. However I must take exception to the answer you gave to Mary Wolfe in Issue #126 Nov/Dec 2010 issue (Oops-Waterless Canning). She forgot to put water not her canner before pressure-processing pint-jars of beef, but the jar lids did seal properly.  Your reply: 

"... Here's my guess: probably your meat is okay, as the jars all sealed and there probably was some steam generated by moisture in the jars during processing.  But I'd mark the jars and be awful sure I checked each one carefully upon use.  Look at the meat, open a jar, making sure it is still sealed well, then smell the meat. If all is okay, be sure to bring the meat to boiling temperature for 15 minutes before eating.... 

My comments are based on 20 years experience as a Food Safety Inspector, including numerous cannery inspections, completing the standard "Better Process Control" classes several times (*highly recommended for home canners, and required by law for canning retort. Operators see your state college food science departments). And completion of an Advanced Canning course provided by the FDA.  (I'm now retired.)  While I'm not a full-fledged Food Science Professor, or a certified "Process Authority" for a cannery, my professional opinion is as follows: 

1. The jars of processed meat have well-sealed lids:  This means that the contents of the container reached at least boiling temperature (212 degrees F) producing steam and forming a vacuum when cooling.  However, there is no way to know whether the contents reached the required full-processing pressure and temperature (10-15 psi of pressure / 240-250 degree temperature) and for how long.  The boiling temperature most likely killed all the food-poisoning and spoilage bacteria, but not the most critical spores of the botulinum bacteria. 

2.   Well-sealed lids also show that there was no re-contamination after processing.  But what is still present and viable, like the spores, can still be a problem.

3.  The time and pressure/temperature specifications in our canning manuals depend on heat transfer by the steam in the pressure cooker-canning vessel, continuously and to the entire surface of the jar and lid for proper heat penetration to the coldest spot inside the jar/container.  
Without water in the canner; 
a) heat was probably only transferred throughout the bottom of the jars; 
b) the jars were probably insulated somewhat by air remaining inside the canner, and
c) it is highly unlikely that the proper temperature/pressure could be maintained though the cook.

Conclusion:  It is highly likely that botulinum spores were still viable in these containers of meat, and produced botulism toxin in these jars within a week or two. 

Regarding your recommended handling procedures: 

1. Check for sealed lids: Yes, this shows that at least a boiling temperature was achieved inside the jar, and three was no re-contamination after processing.  (But botulism is still possible.) 

2. Checking appearance and smell of the product upon opening:  Yes, this shows that (more easily killed) spoilage bacteria were destroyed.  But, Botulinum spores, bacteria and toxin is odorless and does not produce viable changes.  Also, do not taste, even a little bit, to go along with your smell check.  Botulism toxin is the most deadly poison known--- even a fingertip dipped in the food for a taste can kill.  

3.  Bring the meat to a boiling temperature for 15 minutes for 15 minutes before eating.  Yes.  This procedure will destroy any harmful bacteria, as well as botulism toxin, that is in the food.  (However, please be careful how you handle the utensils.  Fore example, if a spoon is used to empty the jar into a pan for cooking, the spoons's surface may be contaminated and transfer residue elsewhere.)  This cooking procedure has probably saved hundreds of lives over the years.

As an alternative procedure, may I also suggest that it is safe to take the marked jars and run them through another canning cook process, without opening them?  Just follow the same time and pressure temperature recommendations for the original food product.  This may "mush" fragile vegetables like asparagus, but meats will only soften a bit more in texture.  There would be no safety issues with storing them away again.  

Again, Jackie, I greatly appreciate your column, and this is the first thing I've ever had any concerns about.  Keep up the good work! 

Peter Regan 
Beaverton, Oregon.

Peter, you are right.  The steam generated from the meat broth may not have been enough to have safely processed the meat.  I guess the old adage is right; when in doubt....reprocess.

Friday, January 24, 2014



The holidays are over. I hope that you can look back on your holidays with a smile but now it is back to business. It is time to look at things a bit more seriously.
I trust that your New Year resolution list is pasted on your refrigerator, with an additional copy on your computer screen.
 Times are still difficult worldwide and many of us will have to tighten the belt a bit more and there is already very little room left. If you are one of those who really feel the pinch, every bit of help on how to spend your money more effectively and still being able to put a healthy and tasty meal on the table is more than welcome.
One wise move is to invest in quality. It definitely saves money on the long run. Quality food and also quality kitchen aids. A quality knife last a lifetime, a set of cheap knives is a wasteful purchase. Same goes for food and storage of food items. A cheaply bought vacuum sealer that gives you a leaking seal after a few weeks has no purpose of even buying it in the first place.
Second is to buy good quality food products from a vendor you can trust, who can give you some decent information about the product and also how to handle it. Good quality food last longer and when you vacuum seal it, it will last even longer as it stays in much better condition. No freezer burn or dried out meats in your freezer for which you paid good hard earned dollars. Throwing food away is easy. Getting the most out of your dollars is not so easy.

Prepared ready meals loaded with preservatives and all sorts of other not so healthy stuff are relatively expensive and of seriously less quality than meals you make yourself. You cannot see or control the contents of these ready meals. You only know what you eat when you cook yourself.
Lovely sounding taglines are of no value to a consumer, I mean, it does not mean anything when it reads on a packet ‘New formula, made with the freshest real beef’. A line like that means zero. Correct me if I am wrong. First of all you do not expect a product with beef contents to be made with half rotten beef and secondly it raises the question: does that mean that the older formula did not have real beef? 
The real valuable information on the packaging, cut of meat, fat contents, added flavoring and preservatives depend completely on what health authorities require by law or food act. Any information that has not been stipulated will not appear, believe me. This means that even when you know the countries food act by heart, you still do not know what you eat.   
This is reason enough for me to stay away from those kinds of products.
Make a well balanced diet a priority. Use fresh produce and cook your own food. You know what your family likes so choosing those items should not be too difficult.
When you do not have too much time left in a week due to a heavy work load and other family obligations, consider dedicating an hour per week and do some bulk cooking. If dedicating your time to a specific task at a specific hour does not work very well consider this idea. 
On Sunday I cook from 11 am till noon. You might have something else planned, so that may not work for you. Try this method at a different time. It works much better for me. When you have the prepackaged products in the refrigerator, you do not want to waste them, you paid for them, you vacuum packed them so you are more likely to use them. 

When the kiddos complain, make pizza and ask them to help, they will love it. Freeze the pizzas, vacuum seal and keep frozen. Homemade pizza ready to go, it does not get much better than that.  
Buy bone in chicken pieces, for example, firstly they are cheaper and secondly they have more flavors and stay juicier after cooking.
Place all chicken parts on a baking tray, season with salt, pepper and any other seasoning you have (paprika powder, garlic, chilly flakes) or any other seasoning of your liking.
Preheat your oven to 325 F and roast for 40 to 45 minutes. Leave to cool, portion the cooked pieces and vacuum seal. When you eat chicken a few times per week, keep it chilled. If not, freeze it. Anyway you choose, you have ready protein to use.
Do the same with your vegetables, only choose a different vegetable for different days. You can precook vegetables (blanch), fry vegetables or braise, this way you have a good variety at any given time. Your meals are almost ready in a very short period of time.
Carbohydrates can also be prepared, cooked rice, boiled or roasted and even mashed potatoes vacuum seal very well. Cooked pastas vacuum seal perfectly also.   
Once you are on the right track and the response from the family is positive, you will enjoy cooking more and more.
Did I tempt you with homemade pizza? Here is a recipe for the dough and sauce, the topping is your choice, great way to use some leftovers as well.  

2 Tsp Dry yeast
1 Cup Warm water
2 Tbsp Olive oil
3 Cups High protein flour (bread flour)
1 ½ Tsp Salt
Pinch Sugar
Dissolve the yeast in a few tablespoons of water with the sugar. Mix until it looks frothy. Leave for ten to fifteen minutes..
Place the flour in a big bowl and slowly add the yeast water and the rest of the water. The water may be too much or too little for the amount of flour. This depends on type of the flour and your individual environment. Do not worry. If it is not enough add a bit more, if your dough is too soft, add a bit more flour.
Add the salt and the oil.
Knead all into soft dough. Good guide is that the dough should not stick to your hands anymore.
Cover the dough and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or so, depending on the temperature in your kitchen. You should have about 1/3 more dough after the rise.
Divide the dough in portions, the quantity of dough is enough for 2 pieces, ½ “thick, 14” round pizzas.
If you want smaller sized pizzas, just divide to your liking.
Form the right size and thickness, and leave the formed pizzas to rest for another ½ hour.
If you freeze the pizzas, you can do this with or without topping.
Pre-heat your oven to 450 F
Bake the pizza for 10 to 12 minutes if you want to freeze it later. Bake a few minutes longer if you plan to eat straight from the oven.
Freeze the pizza after it has cooled down, vacuum and keep frozen. They stay perfect for up to 3 months.
A good Italian pizza sauce is made with tomatoes, onions and garlic. No tomato paste or puree.
½ Nos Big onion (finely chopped)
3 Cloves Chopped garlic  
5 Nos Ripe tomatoes (chopped)
Oil for frying
Fry the onions till translucent in 3 tablespoons of oil, add the garlic and fry for another minute.
Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper and leave to cool.

You can use any type of topping you like, use some of the leftover vacuumed meat you have.

Written for pMG by:

(Professional Chef) Marinus Hoogendoorn

Culinary expert in recipe development



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Retort Canning and the Scientific Information.

Retort Canning, there is no official scientific information for home users by the FDA or USDA.  The scientific information is for commercial users using an autoclave.  A home canner is not rated for commercial use.   Can at your own risk.

In the past articles we have talked about canning in retort pouches for meals with meats, such as chicken, fish or red meat.  We have expressed our own personal experiences and those of our commercial clients.
We have heard from several people and read on several blogs some new and very false information.

1) The suggestions of using less temperature due to the retorts being a thin package.
          This is false. The need to pack the bags snugly in the canner creates a mass that must be heated though out to kill all bacteria.  The bacteria only dies when proper temperature is reached for an extended period of time. 

2)  The suggestion of using less time due to the retorts being a thin package.
           This is false. The mass created by packing the bags snugly to avoid blow outs requires more time to ensure the center of the canned product reaches the proper temperature.  We suggest no less than 30% longer time than suggested home canning guidelines.   Example a 60 minute can would require 90 minutes in retorts to be safe.  Again there is no scientific data on this example. 

3) We have read where non retorts such as mylar type bags are being used.
           This is suggested as a less expensive option.  Retorts are specifically designed with special air barrier properties, they are non toxic. Mylar does not have the air barrier properties nor is the toxicity rated for canning. Mylar is a polyester product not suitable for food and heat.    Any reseller selling bags that are not the standard FDA Gold Retort bag, should display the retort bag manufacturer specs proving their bags are actually retort not just a food package.   A reseller will gladly have this information posted for customers. Beware if you do not see this information clearly posted. 

4) Many non vacuum packaging companies are suggesting not to vacuum seal.
     All retorts on a commercial basis are vacuum sealed.  Either by a standard chamber unit or a roll stock unit. To achieve 100% successful retort canning, the bags are vacuum sealed.  Leaving the air in the bags as the product boils the side seams will give way and leak.  Also with air left in the bag it is extremely hard to see if the product inside has gone bad.  

We would like to express the extreme dangers of some of these suggestions.   We use 30% more time than the home canning instructions to ensure the entire mass is completely heated though out. Using standard home canning heat instructions never less than 10lbs. We have used these instructions ourselves with great success.  However there is no scientific information about retort canning and we are only expressing our own experiences.  Until the scientific research has been completed you are canning retorts at your own risk.

We have been contacted by Dr. Elizabeth Andress with her concerns about retort canning and the non scientific information.  Although hundreds of people have used retorts for their canning and it is widely used in the commercial industry.  There is no laboratory scientific information to give exact time and temperatures especially for meats.  

Dr. Andress wrote the book for USDA for home canning.  We are excited to work with her in the near future.  We look forward to her scientific research to publish her next canning book, using retort pouches.

We encourage all to be safe, use longer times, and no less than 10 lbs of pressure on non acid food such as any meat of fish product.  If the bag is open do not eat and please discard it.   If the bag expands like a balloon while in storage do not open or eat.  Always reheat any home canned foods before eating to ensure bacterial has been destroyed.

We have enclosed Dr. Andress information as she is the USDA expert on home canning. Dr. Andress has not given any suggestions on proper canning of retorts and at this point does not condone the use of retorts in home canning.  But rather is concerned about the misinformation or lack of information being posted.   We hope to be able to post scientific guidelines very soon.

Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D.Professor and Extension Food Safety Specialist
University of Georgia
208 Hoke Smith Annex
Athens, GA  30602-4356

PMG VacUpack 

Living on a Budget

Living on a Budget

My name is Sue Adams and I work part time for VacuPack. I work for them a few hours a week, as I am retired and living on a fixed income. Below are a few things that I have found helpful in staying within by budget.

 1.   When grocery shopping, watch for sales or shop at the warehouse stores.  Buy larger quantities      and vacuum seal fresh vegetables, fruits, grains,meats. etc.  Vacuum seal your food in various size packages to be used at a later date for soups, stews, dinners or appetizers.

 2.   You can cut spending painlessly by keeping track of all your expenditures.

 3.   For necessary purchases (food, insurance, transportation, etc.) be sure to comparison shop to find the best pricing.

 4.   Build an emergency fund.  This will help you to avoid having to take out a loan to cover unexpected expenses.

 5.   Limit your spending for birthdays and holidays (especially Christmas).  It is easy to overspend on others, but not wise.

 6.   Arrange with your bank or credit union to automatically transfer funds from your checking to your savings account, each month.  If you add that amount to your monthly budget, you won't even miss it, and it will be there in case of an emergency.

 7.   ALWAYS avoid using high interest credit cards and payday loans.

 8.   Save your coins (your loose change) and add it to your savings account.  You will be surprised how quickly this adds up.

 9.   If you are a low or moderate income earner, you may qualify for an "Earned Income Tax Credit".
Pay down your debt with part of this credit.

 10.   If you are employed and your company offers a 401K program and your employer will match your retirement savings, you should take advantage of this option.

I hope these simple ideas will help you in the new year.

Written for PMG by:

Sue Adams