Internet Gift Ideas Not Always Safe

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I know people are always looking for creative, fun, and also inexpensive ideas for homemade food holiday gifts. With all the social media, blogs, and YouTube there are plenty of ideas out there.

There’s a recipe that has been going around for several years where bread and cakes are baked in canning jars and sealed with a lid. They are very attractive and popular items at holiday craft shows. N.C. Cooperative Extension can NOT recommend these products.

OK… let’s look at the potential problems.

  • First, it is a high moisture product. These cakes and breads aren’t really canned and because of that, they aren’t shelf-stable. Most recipes for quick breads and cakes include fruit, liquid, and vegetables, which make a rich environment for pathogen survival. Some bacteria are heat-stable and can survive the baking process and then multiply in the bread during storage.
  • Baked goods are typically low-acid. This is another environment with the potential for supporting the growth of bacteria. The biggest concern is Clostridium botulinum (better known as botulism). The heat from the bread will seal the lid to the jar, while this may seem good, it isn’t because it creates a low oxygen atmosphere. Clostridium botulinum spores are abundant in nature but will only grow and produce toxin in unrefrigerated high moisture foods that are low in acid and exposed to little or no oxygen. Research at Penn State has shown that low acid canned bread or cake products may support the growth of Clostridium spores.
  • Canning jars are not made for the oven. In addition to possible pathogen development, there is also a significant risk of breaking and flying glass. Canning jars are intended for use in hot water baths or pressure canners. They are not designed to withstand the thermal stresses of dry oven heat. Canning jar manufacturers also don’t endorse baking in their jars.

Yes, you will see these canned bread and cake products made commercially. We just can’t recommend a similar product duplicated at home. In making bread and cakes in jars for commercial sale, reputable companies use additives, preservatives and processing controls not available for home recipes.

Avoid purchasing canned bread or cakes in glass jars unless they contain additives to prevent microbial growth and meet all labeling requirements for commercial foods. If someone gives you a home-canned cake or bread product, assume that it is unsafe to eat and discard the contents. Why take the risk?

So, what can you do for a safe food gift?

Bake the cake in a regular baking pan. Most bread and cakes freeze well. You couldMason Jar with Sugar Cookies buy a new baking pan and give it to the recipient in the pan, too. Another alternative is to prepare the ingredients of the cake or bread as a “mix in a jar.” Layer the dry ingredients for a quick bread or cake into the jar and attach the directions for baking it to the outside. A Clemson Extension publication suggests including a “use by” date on the label because ingredients such as baking powder will lose their effectiveness over time; brown sugar will harden when combined with other ingredients, and moisture from nuts and raisins can cause dry ingredients to cake. One month from the time you prepare a “mix in a jar” is an appropriate “use by” date.

I know I’ve said it before, but I am going to repeat: just because you find a recipe on the internet does not mean it is safe. Also, just because a jar seals does not mean the product inside is safe. Be sure to use recipes that have been tested by food scientists.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is an excellent source for current research-based recommendations home food preservation. A couple of other homemade products that aren’t recommended include herbs or vegetables in oil or oil infusions and canning some chocolate sauces. See their website for details.

Sources:
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Clemson Cooperative Extension
Penn State Extension


Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910-253-2610 or by email at cheryle_syracuse@ncsu.edu