Published on 01/27/11

Be safe eating homemade gifts

By Sharon Dowdy

Jams, jellies and other canned recipes are often given as homemade gifts. These special treats may come from the heart, but a University of Georgia expert says, for your stomach’s sake, inspect them carefully.

“It may not be easy to question a person who gives you a gift of food. But it would be good to know where the recipe and canning instructions came from, when it was canned and how it was made,” said Elizabeth Andress, a UGA Cooperative Extension food safety specialist.

To make sure your food gift doesn’t lead to a case of foodborne illness, Andress offers this checklist of safety tips:

Before opening the jar, look for signs of spoilage such as cloudy or bubbling liquid.

“Make sure the jar has a vacuum seal when you receive it, and again when you open the jar,” she said. “When you open the jar, make sure there is not spurting of liquid indicating a lot of pressure inside the jar forcing it out.”

If the food looks suspicious, toss it out.

Make sure the food is covered with liquid with no discoloration or drying out at the top of the jar. There should not be unnatural discoloration in the food throughout the jar.

Throw away anything with mold growing on it.

Check for unusual odors coming from the food in the jar. “There can still be botulism toxin in sealed jars of low-acid foods without any visible signs or off-odors, Andress said. “This is why it’s critical to know how those foods were processed and to trust the giver.”

When canning foods at home, Andress recommends using recipes and procedures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” UGA Extension’s “So Easy to Preserve” book, or at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website, .

“We aren’t trying to take the fun out giving home-canned food as a gift,” she said. “We want people to be safe.”

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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