When we first start going to the grocery store with a parent or family member, we all get taught the same things; don’t get the expired milk, check the tomato for bruises, don’t take the dented or bulging cans. Some things are straightforward – no one wants to eat a rotten tomato or suffer the nasty stench of curdled milk, but why avoid the bulging cans? Who decided that was a thing we had to do? Does it not mean that it’s just stuffed with extra food? People throw around the word “Botulism” but what does it mean?
Clostridium botulinium, the organism that causes Botulism, leads to problems in the nervous system that may result in muscle and chest weakness, difficulty seeing, and can even be fatal. It’s considered a thermophilic anaerobic organism, meaning it can withstand extreme temperatures and mostly exists in environments without oxygen. But it’s only one example of the different thermophilic anaerobic organisms that affect the food consumers purchase on a daily basis.- There are some foods and contaminants that people aren’t even aware of, and most people don’t know where it all comes from. Here at Gibraltar Laboratories, Microbiological Food Safety Testing is performed in order to detect thermophilic anaerobic microorganisms similar to that which causes Botulism. These types of bacteria and spores are responsible for 60-80% of the spoilage of canned foods, and can present problems in things like infant formula, dehydrated milk, starch, flour, cereals, soy proteins, and even sugar.
Contaminants like the spores we test for usually grow on the handling equipment throughout the canning process, the skin of the handlers, in the soil, and on the raw materials themselves. The affected foods can be contaminated at several points during processing. For example, many canned foods such as vegetables and meats go through a process of sterilization that involves the use of extreme heat. This heat is used to hermetically seal the product and kill any bacteria incapable of withstanding such temperatures, thus making it safer for consumption. The cans are then cooled by being placed in water, which despite often being treated with chlorine to prevent bacterial growth, is the source of most canned food contamination. Organisms growing in the cooling water can leak through any failing hermetic seals due to dents in cans or an incorrect sealing process, contaminating the food within. In the case of infant formula, if thermophilic organisms are present in the raw milk, the high temperatures attained during the pasteurization process can cause the spores to grow and contaminate the formula.
A shopper can sometimes avoid buying these contaminated foods by doing what we were taught to do- avoid swollen or dented cans. Many of the thermophilic anaerobic spores and bacteria that contaminate canned food produce carbon dioxide and hydrogen, which react with the acids in the food and the metals in the can, causing it to swell and indicating that contamination is occurring. On the other hand, some organisms don’t produce gas or are packaged differently. This makes it much more difficult for the average person to find contaminated products like sugar or cereals, which are sold in boxes and bags. That’s what the FDA and laboratories like Gibraltar are here for. Companies will check their finished products by performing routine Microbiological Food Safety Testing with Gibraltar Laboratories, Inc. to keep consumers safe. The FDA enforces strict rules and methods of detection that Gibraltar uses to test products such as infant formula, starch, flour, cereals, and other related products for all of those hard-to-see contaminants that can hide in food and make you sick.
So Mom was right- avoid those swollen or dented cans, but we’ll are here to help make sure what you’re consuming is safe