Canning seems mysterious to many who are embarking on a journey toward more self-sufficiency. We eat canned foods every day. Not just canned in metal cans but canned in that the foods have been preserved for later consumption in containers. Whether it is at a restaurant or at home, we eat foods that have been processed and preserved in metal cans and glass and plastic jars. Some of our “canned” foods come in sealed pouches of metalized plastic. Of course some containers such as plastic and the tear-open pouches would be beyond the capabilities for home canning, but we do have access to simple supplies and tools for preserving home-grown food in a way that is equal to the quality of commercial methods, just on a smaller scale.
The fundamentals of canning are to kill the germs and seal the container. That is why hot water is used for home canning. It is easy to stop by a department store and pick up some Mason jars, lids and bands to hold the lids down, a specially made pot for submersing jars in boiling water, and a lifter to get the jars out of the hot water. Those items are the basics for the water-bath method of canning. For pressure canning one needs a pressure cooker large enough to hold the filled jars. The water-bath method and the pressure canning method are to be used for specific types of foods.
Many vegetables such as tomatoes have high amounts of acid in them. Foods high in acid content are canned by using the water-bath method of canning. Lower acid foods such as meats (yes you can even can cooked hamburger) are canned using a pressure cooker. The pressure cooker allows the water to reach higher temperatures than the water bath method. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. In the pressurized environment of the pressure cooker, water can reach a higher temperature before boiling.
Every part of the container is sterilized in boiling water. Jar lids with the rubbery seals, the bands that hold the lids on the jars and the jars themselves are all boiled before being filled with product. After filling them with the food that is to be preserved, the jars are boiled again for a specific amount of time that has been determined necessary for each food item being canned. This is critical in preserving foods for later consumption. Another critical point of canning is the headspace. The space between the top of the product in the jar and the top of the jar is the headspace. Every food product to be preserved has a recommended amount of headspace that should be followed. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is usually on the shelf in the store where the other canning supplies are. This book has specific recipes and info for successfully preserving food using home canning methods.
Home canning methods done right are perfectly safe. Most who begin researching what it takes to get into home canning have heard of botulism. Poisoning by botulinum toxin is not one of the top news stories heard even though many more people are learning to preserve their own food again in the wake of this new economy everyone is forced to face. We do hear stories of people dying from Salmonella and E. coli in many news stories. The bacterium that produces botulism is one of the most deadly toxins known. That is why it is so scary.
If those who have been canning for years as well as those who just start today stick with the proven recipes and methods found in canning books such as the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, there is about as much to worry about eating home canned foods as there is eating that commercially canned jar of mushrooms. Yes, there is a possibility of commercially canned foods being tainted with many toxic bacteria up to and including the bacteria that causes botulism but it is rare. Not impossible by any means but rare. It is not a bad thing for awareness to creep into the mind of the student of home food preservation methods. The awareness that even commercially canned foods can pose a risk. Actually home canning should put the mind more at ease since the control of canning from picking the food to preserving it are all in the hands of the home canner.