by Prep Kat
I know we have a lot of seasoned canners in the Pack. This article is aimed at the few who are afraid to jump in or are just starting out. Home canning is such a wonderful way to store food for later. Anyone can do it – you just need to learn to do it safely.
We grow and can food for many reasons; to keep our abundant harvest, to save money, to ensure healthy food for our families by avoiding additives or chemicals in packaging, and many more reasons. As we think about canning as a means to preserve food, a reminder about safe canning and storing of food is never out-of-order.
How does canning preserve food?
Home canning, when done correctly, preserves food by removing oxygen, killing bacteria and microorganisms and preventing the growth of yeasts and molds. It is one of the best methods to keep your harvest.
Following safe canning methods and recipes is the only way to lessen the incidences of food poisoning. One of the most dangerous forms of food poisoning is caused by Clostridium botulinum. These bacteria can exist dormant in the soil for many years, and when the conditions are right can multiply rapidly and produce a deadly toxin.
It likes to grow in moist, low acid foods with low levels of oxygen. Improperly handled and processed food jars are the perfect environment for botulinum spores to grow. Washing food before canning can reduce, but not eliminate the spores on the surface of the food.
Since botulinum spores can survive boiling water, pressure canning, where temperatures reached at least 240 degrees F and pressures reach 10 to 15 pounds per square inch, needs to be used when canning low some foods. There is no safe method for water bath canning meat and vegetables. Grandma may have done it, but we know now that you must use a pressure canner for low acid foods.
A few simple guidelines to remember are:
1. Make sure you are using up-to-date methods and recipes
The decision to use a water bath canner or a pressure canner depends on the acidity of the food to be canned. Acid foods contain enough acid to prevent the growth of unwanted bacteria. These foods include most fruits and tomatoes (although some tomato varieties need to have acid added). Low acid foods, such as meat, seafood, and most vegetables do not have enough acid to safely water bath can them.
The method of packing the jars with food is also dependent on the acidity of foods. Most acid foods that will be water bath canned need to be hot packed. That is, the food needs to be hot, and it needs to be placed into jars that are still hot from being sterilized in boiling water. Most low acid foods can be packed either hot or raw.
The best thing to do is use a recently published cookbook or canning guide. Ball’s Blue Book comes out every year and is inexpensive. Follow the methods and times recommended by the recipes.
2. Use the correct equipment.
Keep your equipment clean and in good repair. Have your pressure gauge checked each year for accuracy and make sure your gasket is still good.
Use the right canning jars and new seals; rings can be reused if they are in good shape. Commercial jars like what mayonnaise or pickles come in can be used for water bath canning with new seals and rings, but you can expect more seal failure with these, and they are more prone to cracking and breaking. These jars are not recommended for pressure canning for just these reasons.
The metal lid seals for canning jars have a gasket compound that melts and flows to cover the rim of the jar. These are seals are good for one use only.
3. Remember to adjust for altitude.
Water boils at a lower temperature at higher altitudes. You will need to lengthen the time when water bath canning or use a higher pressure if you live at an altitude higher than 1000 feet. Any good canning guide will give you the correct times and pressures.
4. Use quality ingredients.
As food ages, quality will naturally deteriorate, making it important to select quality products to start with. Use the best you can find – for a good product, use good ingredients. Use canning salt when the recipe calls for it. Regular table salt contains anti-caking agents that may turn your product cloudy. Can foods as soon after harvest as possible to maintain flavor, texture, and nutrition.
5. Store your canned goods correctly.
When your jars are cooled, remove the ring, wash and dry the jars and store in a cool, dry, dark place. Rings are not needed for storage and may rust if left on. Rings left on the jars may also hide a faulty seal and spoiling food. Jars stored at around 50 degrees F will help ensure your food retains the goodness and nutrition you canned them for in the first place. Keep foods off of the floor and away from outside walls to help prevent condensation.
Home canning food makes sense. It can save money and allow you to feed your family wholesome, healthy food. If you follow these common-sense safety guidelines you can be sure to avoid the chemicals and high salt content commonly found in commercially canned foods. You will know what is in the jar because YOU put it there. When you stand back and look at all the beautiful jars lining the shelves in your pantry, you know you will be able to provide high quality, nutritious and safe meals no matter what.
Take care, y’all!
- Colorado State University Extension
- North Dakota State University Extension Service
- USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning
M.D. recommends The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.