Wednesday, September 02, 2009

domestically challenged

So, the dried tomatoes in the jar look inviting, do they not? To the contrary--I just discovered today that I turned an innocent batch of vegetables into a toxic colony of micro-organisms.

And to think I was going to give them to the people I love as Christmas presents!

Just when I'm starting to think I've discovered my inner domestic goddess, I am humbled (and slightly terrified) by the invisible threat of botulism. Let me explain . . .

Yesterday, I emailed all the members of our community garden co-op and shared with them all the delectable ways I'd been preserving my bountiful crop. I gave the the roasted veggie recipe from NW Organic farms and revealed my killer salsa recipe. For the grand finale', I told the group how I'd oven dried roma tomatoes, then packed them in olive oil laced with fresh garlic and basil. It was a recipe I'd discovered in a friend's cookbook.

I loved how easy it was to make--and how gourmet it looked.

Only minutes after I'd sent the email, came an urgent reply: "Do NOT use Shawn's recipe for the dried tomatoes in olive oil! When you put veggies and herbs in oil it creates a condition which allows botulism to become toxic . . . "

Up until that point, I'd never felt like a potential murdered. But those words hit hard! I started researching the whole subject of preserving foods in olive oil and found that the opinions varied. But I went to the site my email friend recommended (the Oregon State Food Safety/Preservation site and found that they approved the preservation of dried tomatoes in olive oil--but only if no fresh vegetables were added. Dried basil and garlic would have been perfectly fine.

Who knew?

So I actually called the Food Safety hotline today (1 800 354 7319) to find out if I could salvage my contaminated tomatoes. The first woman I talked to asked me a gazillion questions (how long have the jars been stored at room temperature?) and then decided she needed to call in a botulism expert. This lady had me repeat my story, asked a few questions and then announced:

"Congratulations! You've grown your own colony of botulism!"

What do you say to that? I repeated my question about saving the tomatoes and she recommended that I throw everything out--including the jars!

"The oil is contaminated now and it will infect everything it touches, including the jars. Do you really want to get toxic oil all over your kitchen?"

Well, the obvious answer to that was a big, fat NO! So I threw away all my delicious tomatoes, jars and all, and disinfected my entire kitchen with lysol.

Seriously, who knew that the combination of olive oil, dried tomatoes and a few fresh herbs could create such a deadly cocktail? I'm thinking that the TSA should have their own counter-botulism/canning unit . . .


Kathryn said...

Well, heck, that's a drag to discover. But, I suspect you'll find you're in good company when all your preserving friends start sharing their horror stories. It happens to everyone. Be not dismayed, my friend.

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