Army colonel tries old C-ration pound cake, doesn’t get botulism

Field rations for soldiers are designed with two primary motives: 1) providing lots of calories and 2) lasting in a combat zone.

For the most part, taste is greatly sacrificed. But retired Army colonel Henry A. Moak, Jr., thought his 40-year-old C-ration can of pound cake was "good."

Moak got the drab olive can as a Marine helicopter pilot off the Vietnamese coast in 1973. He vowed to hang on to it until the day he retired, storing it in a box with other mementos.

"It’s even a little moist," he said, wiping his mouth after downing a handful in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes following a formal retirement ceremony.

Retired Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, who was the U.S. Army Europe commander when Moak served overseas, took an even bigger piece. "Tastes just like it always did," Mikolashek mumbled with a mouthful of cake as Moak laughed and clapped.

The AP reports,

"Moak said he wasn’t worried about getting sick from any bacteria that may have gotten into the old can, because it looked sealed. But the military discourages eating from old rations.

"’Given the risks … we do everything possible to ensure that overly aged rations are not consumed,’ said Lawrence Levine, a spokesman for the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

"Levine named the threats as mold and deadly botulism if the sealing on the food has been broken, which isn’t always visible."

Mold, maybe. Botulism, no; it arises from improper canning initially – or denting later – but not broken seals. (They only open the possibility of contamination to microbes that like air: B. cereus, Lavine…)

Don’t try to be Rachel Ray if you’re canning

Home food preservation is seeing a resurgence across North America. Some of this is due to economics, some is linked to eating local (and others are just curious what all the buzz is about). Earlier this year seed companies reported increases in home garden sales (potentially leading to more canning) and North Carolina extension agents have told me that canning inquiries have almost doubled over previous years.

I’ve even been challenged to a pickle making throw-down (more on that later).

The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today have all recently covered home food preservation. My contribution to the coverage was reinforcing the importance of following tested recipes (and not messing around with them). Kim Painter of USA Today used my money-shot quote:

"This is one area where you don’t want to be Rachael Ray. You don’t want to add your flair" to recipes and techniques backed by good science and rigorous testing, says Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University.

Keep your flair out of home food preservation and stick to methods that have been evaluated for safety.

New food safety infosheet — 3 in Spokane sickened by botulism linked to home canned beans

Canning season is just about to start. I’ve never really done any home food preservation before. Growing up all I was really exposed to, canning-wise, was pickles, freezer jam and frozen peaches. All of which I loved to eat, but I always found ways to occupy myself while my mom and grandmother were making them for fear of having to help. My dad and grandfather usually golfed while this was all going down.

Golfing is sort of out of the question now that I have a nine-month-old crawling around the house, so I’m taking up canning. I’m heading out to Walmart this week to grab the Ball Home Canning Basics kit and start experimenting.

Maybe experimenting might now be the right word. I don’t really want to experiment too much when the consequences can be so drastic. This week’s food safety infosheet focuses on an outbreak from earlier this year in Spokane, WA. Reportedly a 30-year-old Washington State nurse and her two children became ill with botulism reportedly acquired from canned green beans. The nurse’s illness was so severe that she required a ventilator to breath for months.

Though reliable data is often hard to access, other recent outbreaks linked to the potentially complicated processes of home preservation have contributed to the national burden of foodborne illness. Illnesses have been linked to home preservation in numerous states. As recent as September 2008, an Ohio man and his grandson were hospitalized as a result of botulism toxin poisoning caused by improperly canned green beans. In 2007 a Virginia couple died after consuming improperly canned foods that also contained botulism toxin.  There have been at least seven other outbreaks of botulism linked to home preservation practices across the U.S. since 1995. Improperly processed home-dried jerky products have also recently been linked to Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli outbreaks.

You can download this week’s food safety infosheet here.

Jack White gives Eagles of Death Metal food poisoning

In a nice intersection of music and food safety, Gasoline Magazine reports that Jack White (one of my very favorite thrashers) brought some poorly-handled Detroit pierogies to Jesse Hughes of the Eagles of Death Metal resulting in some celebrity barf. Hughes says that the pierogies arrived before a show in Toronto last fall and gave him the squirts and a queasy stomach for most of the performance:

"Dude, I had botulism… Jack White bought pierogies in Detroit and brought them up to the gig, and I ended up eating one far too long after it had expired.  I ended up contracting mild botulism and sweating out of every hole, so to speak, for about 12 hours.  I was the worst f’n experience I’ve ever had.  But you can’t call in sick to rock & roll"

Amen, brother; that’s why I love rock & roll.

Working in a restaurant, that’s different. Call in sick.

It probably wasn’t actual botulism (would have been difficult to pound the guitar with a body full of  neurotoxin) but sounds like a nasty foodborne illness experience.

Actual botulism did appear this week in WA, where a woman in her 30s and two children under 10 fell ill from eating improperly-canned green beans from a home garden. The woman is reportedly recovering slowly and remains on a ventilator.

Here’s some Sunday rock & roll, Jack White and the Rolling Stones, Loving Cup:

And a bonus video, The Dirty Mac’s Yer Blues from the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus: