Dos and Don’ts for Home Canning

Home canning is a great way to enjoy the summer fresh taste of produce for many months after harvest. Home canning is gaining fans because people want to enjoy foods without preservatives and other additives. If you are thinking about canning foods at home, the following are some dos and don’ts to help you preserve high quality, safe products.

Do purchase a current research-based canning guide. Canning methods change based on research concerning which methods work best. What worked in the 1950s may not be appropriate for today’s food products that are grown differently and come from various parts of the world. Grandma’s recipe for canning green beans might not be the safe method that will prevent food poisoning.

Do assemble all of the equipment needed before you begin your canning task. Your canning guide will provide a list of equipment necessary for the canning method you plan to use. In addition to utensils and jars, you might also need to purchase some specially formulated ingredients such as canning and pickling salt, pectin, and spice mixtures for pickles. Making a list and shopping for these items prior to canning will prevent your having to stop in the middle of your process to obtain what you need.

Do use produce at the peak of freshness. If you preserve produce the same day you pick it or purchase it from the farmer’s market, the result will be a better tasting, higher quality product. If you wait, flavors can start to change, nutrients can diminish and starches can break down. Neither the appearance nor the taste of the final product will be the high quality that is sought in home canned foods.

Do use the right canning method. High acid foods such as fruit, pickles or other acidified foods may be canned using a boiling water bath canner. The acid and a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit are sufficient to kill harmful bacteria that coiuld be present on these foods. However for those foods that are considered low acid like green beans, okra, peas, and corn, a pressure canner must be used. This is because clostridium botulinum, a deadly bacteria that grows in the absence of air can contaminate improperly processed foods. To properly process low acid foods you must use a pressure canner. A pressure canner can reach 240 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to kill clostridium botulinum. Never pour hot food in jars, place a lid on them and let them seal on their own. Jars must be processed either in a boiling water canner or pressure canner for the specified amount of time to be safe.

Don’t take short cuts or change recipes. Each recipe in a research-based canning guide has been tested in a lab to determine whether the method is safe. You can omit salt where told to do so, but in the case of brines for pickles, you never alter ingredients because doing so can affect the safety, taste and quality of the product.

Don’t use mayonnaise jars or other jars for home canning. Mayonnaise and similar jars are designed for single use. These jars can contain small nicks, cracks and chips from utensils used to remove products from the jars, As a result they may crack when heated to high temperatures needed for home canning. Use mason type jars that are designed specifically for home canning.

Don’t reuse lids. Once canning lids are used, they cannot be used again. The rings are safe to reuse, but lids contain a special substance that facilitates sealing, once this has been activated, it cannot be used to seal another jar.

Don’t preserve more than you can eat within one year. Even though some people store home canned foods for several years, flavor, quality and safety an become an issue when food is kept for many years after it is preserved. Home canned products also do not have the added safety measures used in commercial canneries.