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Cakes and Breads in Jars - Are They Safe?

Canning cakes and breadsRecipes for canned breads and cakes as gift items seem to appear each year around Christmas time. While they look attractive and are unique for gift giving, these products are not shelf-stable and cannot be safely stored at room temperature. Canned breads and cakes are typically made by pouring batter into glass canning jars and baking them in the oven. Once the cake or bread is done, the steaming jars are taken out of the oven and then sealed and cooled to create a vacuum. Many recipes claim that they can be stored without refrigeration for about a year. Some say they will keep indefinitely.

The microorganism to be concerned about in these products is Clostridium botulinum. If spores of this bacteria are allowed to germinate and grow, deadly botulism toxin is produced. Tiny amounts of this toxin can cause an often fatal disease called botulism.  Clostridium botulinum spores are abundant in nature but will only grow and produce toxin in unrefrigerated high moisture foods that are low in acid and exposed to little or no oxygen. These conditions occur in low acid canned foods; low acid canned foods must be processed under pressure at temperatures of 240°F or higher to make sure that the heat resistant spores are killed.  Research at Penn State has shown that low acid canned bread or cake products may support the growth of Clostridium spores.

In addition to the risk of botulism, there is also a significant risk for consumers to become injured from broken glass when baking cakes and breads in glass canning jars. Canning jars are intended for use in hot water baths or pressure canners. They are not designed to withstand the thermal stresses that occur with dry oven heat.

Therefore, Clemson Extension strongly discourages consumers from canning cakes and breads in jars. Botulism is a serious and often fatal disease and no consumer should take unnecessary risks with this microorganism. If someone gives you a home canned cake or bread product, assume that it is unsafe to eat and discard the contents.

Commercially produced breads and cakes in jars or cans are available. This product cannot be safely duplicated at home. In making breads and cakes in jars for commercial sale, reputable companies use additives, preservatives and processing controls not available for home recipes. Safety tests are conducted for each specific recipe for commercial products. Avoid purchasing canned breads or cakes in glass jars unless they contain additives to prevent microbial growth and meet all labeling requirements for commercial foods.

What are some alternatives to canning breads and cakes in jars? Bake the product in a regular baking pan and give it to the recipient who can use it immediately or freeze it.  Most breads and cakes freeze well. A frozen product can be attractively wrapped for gift giving, and recipients can then choose when they wish to use it. Another alternative is to prepare the ingredients of the cake or bread as a “mix in a jar.” Layer the dry ingredients for a quick bread or cake into a jar and attach the directions for baking it to the outside. Include a “use by” date on the label because ingredients such as baking powder will lose their effectiveness over time; brown sugar will harden when combined with other ingredients, and moisture from nuts and raisins can cause dry ingredients to cake. Ingredients for a topping, as on a coffee cake, can be inserted into a small plastic bag and placed on top of the other dry ingredients. One month from the time you prepare a “mix in a jar” is an appropriate “use by” date.

This tip is taken directly from “Canning Breads and Cakes?” and is available at the Penn State Food Preservation web site at http://extension.psu.edu/food-safety/food-preservation/faq/canned-breads-and-cakes

For additional information see: