When I was a new mom and the budget was incredibly tight, I really wanted to start preserving food by canning. My mother-in-law knew this and got me the book, Putting Food By*. I read it and became so deathly afraid that I was going to kill my family, that I put off preserving food for years. But I finally did some more research, overcame my fear, and began preserving our food.
One of the last things I attempted was fermentation. For some strange reason, I was most afraid of this, even though it really is one of the safest (and healthiest) ways of preserving food. I’m going to share some of my research with you in the hopes that it may give you some peace about the safety of fermented foods.
Food spoils because of bacteria and oxygen. Many people fear bacteria in their food, but you can also use good bacteria to preserve your food because bacteria have different effects on food.
Spoilage bacteria affect food quality and cause it to deteriorate. They make food look, smell, feel, and taste bad. As a result, most people don’t eat spoiled food, even though eating it would not normally make you sick.
Pathogenic bacteria affect food safety and cause sickness such as food poisoning. These bacteria (such as E. coli and salmonella) do this without causing your food to spoil, so there are no obvious warning signs.
Lactic acid bacteria affect food longevity and cause preservation. Through the process of fermentation, you can make use of these bacteria to extend the life of your food.
Let’s discuss fermentation for a minute. Simply put, fermentation is “controlled decay” by special (preserving) bacteria that turn food from its original state into food that is more easily digestible and that has a higher nutrition value.
This improved nutrition comes from the fact that the nutrients in fermented foods are more “bioavailable”. This leads to better absorption by the body of protein and minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. It is also possible for the lactic acid bacteria to synthesize vitamins that are missing from the diet such as folic acid, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B12.
You do not need to be afraid of making or eating fermented foods (like sauerkraut and yogurt). If they have been improperly made or gone bad, you will know it by the smell. In fact, Fred Breidt, a microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, believes that properly fermented fruits and vegetables can be safer than their raw counterparts which may have been exposed to bacteria (e.g. E. coli) where they were grown or processed. He says, “With fermented products there is no safety concern. I can flat-out say that. The reason is the lactic acid bacteria that carry out the fermentation are the world’s best killers of other bacteria.”
What about you? Do you trust fermented food?
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