Food and drink 

Murder most foul by green beans

A Canadian primer to botulism

There’s a wonderful scene in a Joyce Carol Oates story. Or was it an Atwood tale? Doesn’t matter because the concept is so quirky:

A young bride, determined to be a good homemaker, cans all her summer vegetables merrily away. Later, a jar of tainted canned green beans does in her mother-in-law amidst much anxiety and guilt, not so very much of it seemingly suffered by the earnest young homemaker.

Great idea, thought I. Faulty canning as murder weapon, intentional or not, only to read about same more recently in Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres . Ginny, the sympathetic daughter, tries to do in her sister who stole her lover by mixing poisonous water hemlock into homemade canned sausages. Wicked.

Best to watch out for those women with homemade canning weapons, or at least offer them their due respect.

I’ve long admired people with the courage to “put up” preserves, jams and jellies this time of year. I would always worry about killing someone because I got a little sloppy with sterilizing things or didn’t heat them up to the right temperature or something.

I think it stems from early experiences of opening a homemade jar of pear jam or crabapple jelly and seeing a skiff of greenish mould on the paraffin wax seal. I’d watch in horror as a matronly elder skimmed it off and pooh-poohed the whole affair as she spread the jelly on my sandwich, slyly admonishing, “Oh, that’s not going to hurt you.” No wonder I can eat street food anywhere in the world today.

Then there were the visits to the cellars of distant cousins or friends whose mom asked you to bring up a jar of whatevers for dinner from the basement. There you’d spy them: Jars of canned apricots looking like bulbous beige mushrooms, faded beans the colour of rubber boots, pickled beets with fizzy white bubbles on top, all of them sporting labels with dates. Hey, I might have been little but I could count. And pass on the canned whatevers served for dinner.

Now suddenly, the canned green beans murder story is not so funny.

Loblaws and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are warning consumers that cans of No Name French Style Green Beans are being recalled from the marketplace because they may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum , the bacteria that causes botulism. Wisconsin-based Lakeside Foods Inc. is also involved in a recall.

The thing about botulism is that the food may not look or smell spoiled (so much for those of us who look at and sniff the old leftovers we find in the back of the fridge to see if they are okay to eat). But it can cause serious illness or death in severe cases. It may cause nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, headache, double vision, dry throat, respiratory failure and paralysis.


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