Canned Breads & Cakes – Are They Safe to Eat?
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Around holiday time, there is no shortage of recipes and ideas for food gifts. One that always seems to reappear each year is canned breads and cakes. While they look attractive and are unique for gift giving, these products are not shelf-stable and cannot be safely stored at room temperature. Canned breads and cakes are typically made by pouring batter into glass canning jars and baking them in the oven. Many recipes claim they can be stored without refrigeration for an extended period of time.
Clostridium botulinum is the microorganism of concern with these products. Deadly botulism toxin can be produced and even tiny amounts of this toxin can cause the fatal disease called botulism. This microorganism is 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, which exactly describes the environment inside jarred breads and cakes.
Aside from food safety, there is danger with the jar itself. Consumers can become injured from broken glass when baking in glass canning jars. Canning jars are intended for use in hot water baths and pressure canners. They are not designed to withstand the thermal stresses that occur with dry oven heat and, thus, are not meant to be used as bakeware.
While commercially produced breads and cakes in jars are available in stores, this product cannot be safely duplicated at home. In making breads and cakes in jars for commercial sale, reputable companies use additives, preservatives and processing controls that are not available for home recipes. Avoid purchasing canned breads and cakes in glass jars unless they contain additives to prevent microbial growth and meet all labeling requirements for commercial foods.
There is an alternative to canning breads and cakes in jars. Measure the dry ingredients of the cake or bread as a “mix in a jar.” Layer the dry ingredients for a quick bread or cake into a jar and attach the directions for baking it using approved bakeware. Include 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 clump. Ingredients for a topping, as on a coffee cake, can be inserted into a small plastic bag and placed on top of the other dry ingredients. One month from the time you prepare a “mix in a jar” is an appropriate “use by” date.
If you receive a home canned food gift and wonder if it is safe to eat, consider the following: High-acid canned foods such as fruit jams and jellies and whole fruits like peaches, cherries, plums, and cranberries, or cranberry sauce are lower risk foods. Their high sugar content add an extra measure of safety. Low-acid vegetables and vegetable mixes are high risk foods because, if improperly processed, they could cause botulism. Mixtures of high-acid and low-acid ingredients like salsas and pickled foods are also a potential risk for botulism. If someone gives you a jar of their home canned vegetables, it is extremely important to know they followed properly tested canning processes and procedures for preparing the food as well as operating the pressure canner. It is important to use tested recipes rather than ones that may have been passed down through generations or found on the internet. Tested recipes and other resources can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
For other gift-giving food ideas, check out North Dakota Extension’s publication Food Mixes in a Jar.