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Neglected to put enough lemon juice in my canned tomatoes

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Hi CHers,

I am a first time canner and made canned tomatoes yesterday. They look great. However, I have no realized my mistake of only putting 1 tbl instead of 2 tbl of lemon juice per quart. Suggestions? Think they're ok as is? They had to process for 85 min so the thought of re-processing them in my very hot kitchen seems like a lot of work, but, OTOH, no one needs to die of botulism. TIA!

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  1. I never put lemon juice in the tomatoes I can -- can't stand the taste. However, I make sure to can high-acid varieties. Discard any jars with bulging lids, cook whatever the tomatoes are going in thoroughly, and you'll be fine.

    1 Reply
    1. re: pikawicca

      I have never heard of lemon juice in canned tomatoes. I cook tomatoes 45 minutes and add 1/2 tsp of canning salt per pint 1tsp per qt. Put them in jars cooked wait for them to seal! Delicious! Of course jars and lids are sterilized prior to. My grandmother taught me this method, never had a bad jar and acidity was never an issue. Better Boys and Celebrity are the varities I am canning this year. Also wait until the tomatoes are blood red before canning.

    2. From Wikipedia:

      "Between 1990 and 2000, the Centers for Disease Control reported 263 individual 'cases' from 160 foodborne botulism 'events' in the United States with a case-fatality rate of 4%."

      That's 26 cases/1 death per year. It's highly likely that the fatalities were infants or the elderly. I say use common sense and exercise regularly and you'll be fine.

      1. The lemon juice is basically there to raise the acid since some tomatoes slip into the low acid zone. Personally before I bought my pressure canner I skipped the lemon juice all together. Now I can just pressure can them if I want to, just to be safe.

        1. 85 minutes sounds like a water bath rather than pressure canning. Did the jars all seal OK? I've never used lemon juice, and the tomatoes I can are heirloom varieties from my garden which tend to be more acidic (one variety, Rutgers, was bred for canning). If the jars all sealed, and you have a higher acid variety you should be ok. If you're worried, use them up first. If the lids bulge, or you see evidence of microbe activity, throw them out.

          1. The biggest concern is botulism, which will NOT bulge the lids. The toxin produced by the spore is odorless, colourless, and tasteless. Most tomatoes will have enough acid, but you can't be sure.

            Other microorganisms WILL bulge the lids, smell bad, etc. But at 85 minutes boiled, you've probably knocked all the less nasty bugs out cold.

            If you want to be safe, just remember to BOIL the tomatoes you've canned after you open them, and do not taste them or get the liquid in anything else that might get eaten raw. The weird thing about botulism toxin is that it is sooo toxic, but denatures very quickly when boiled. So mark those jars, and use them for spaghetti or chili or anything that will be boiled for a long time.

            Oh, and follow the guidelines from ncfhfp:
            http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can3_tomato....

            (85 minutes sounds excessive)

            4 Replies
            1. re: applgrl

              Even NCHFP shows 85 minutes BWB processing time for whole and halved raw pack at sea level.

              1. re: rasputina

                Oh yeah......raw pack. I'm used to salsa---my bad. At my altitude it would be 90 minutes....yike I think I'd buy a pressure canner.

              2. re: applgrl

                I don't know where you're getting your information, but a primary sign of botulism is a bulging lid. Never heard or read of anyone getting botulism poisoning from tomatoes.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  I'm getting my information from four years' university food science, but if that's not enough street cred, then I'll quote the NCFHFP:
                  "The Clostridium botulinum microorganism is the main reason pressure canning is necessary. Though the bacterial cells are killed at boiling temperatures, the spores they form can withstand very long boiling. In the soils, these bacteria are naturally found in the spore form. The spores grow out well in moist, low-acid foods in the absence of air, such as in canned low acid foods (vegetables and meats). When this happens, the spores change to growing bacterial cells which produce the deadly botulinum toxin (poison). This growth and toxin formation can occur without any noticeable signs of spoilage in the sealed jar."

                  http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga...

                  In other words: botulism does NOT bulge the lids. Other bacteria do.

              3. Thanks for the feedback, folks. It was a water bath, not pressure, and the lids sealed just fine. 85 min is the recommended processing time for raw pack in their own liquid.

                1. Go to your local brewing store and get yourself some PH test strips. Test all your product before you can (after in this case), and you'll never worry about botulism again.

                  Acid foods have a PH of 4.6 or lower.

                  I shoot for around 4.0 and sleep easy.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: MunchkinRedux

                    great idea. Not sure why I didn't think of it myself considering we always had PH on the pool test strips too.

                    1. re: rasputina

                      The test strips aren't that accurate, and you'd only be testing the brine, not the insides of whatever veg you're cooking. In THEORY, the solid chunks of tomato can break down and raise the pH while it's in the canner, assuming it was a low acid tomato. That's the main reason current science says to add lemon juice as you fill the jar, it will once and for all make sure the pH is low enough.

                      That said, there is only so much micro-managing you can do in the kitchen. The USDA and all of the extension services have to go with the safest possible methods.

                  2. if it makes you feel any better, my parents (a food technologist and home economist) canned tomatoes for over 60 years without ever adding acid I absolutely would not worry and you did add lemon anyway. Enjoy your canned tomatoes and know that generations ate them without added acid and very little if any risk of sickness or fatality..