Extension@YourService: Learning to Can Safely

— Written By and last updated by Leeann Crump
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Interest in preserving foods at home is back on the rise. I know this because Summer canning classes are full! The Family and Consumer Science Agent position evolved from home demonstration clubs that grew and preserved food during WWI. 100 years later, we are still teaching how to preserve food using tested and researched recipes.

Canning and other methods of home food preservation can save money, preserve family tradition, and control the quality and taste of the food we eat. It also helps us enjoy great local produce all year when they are not in season anymore. For me, peaches in pies or simply served at winter holiday meals is a must.

Many people still have old family recipes passed down from generation to generation that are still used today as well as their own methods, which can be extremely dangerous. Bacteria are everywhere and must be killed and prevented from re-growing in food. Tested recipes should be followed exactly to preserve safe food. Following are a couple of dangerous mistakes to make when canning.

Using Improper Equipment. It is perfect safe to reuse canning jars year after year, but that must be thoroughly inspected for rust, dents, and cracks. Any jars that have these flaws should be tossed out. Mayonnaise jars also cannot be used for canning foods. Canning jars are specifically made to withstand high the high temperatures during canning. Lids are one-time use only and do not need to be sanitized in boiling water any longer. Washing jars, lids, and rings in hot soapy water is all that is necessary to make them safe and ready to use, but be careful not to contaminate them with dirty towels or surfaces.

Only can low-acid foods in USDA approved pressure canners. Using a water bath canner for canning vegetables that have not been acidified can lead to the growth of clostridium botulinum, causing botulism, and possibly death. In 2015, the largest botulism outbreak in 40 years occurred at a church dinner when someone used home-canned potatoes in a potato salad, killing 1 and sickening 18. This could have been prevented by pressure canning the potatoes. Some new electric pressure cookers also say they are good for canning and include recipes. Recipes provided by the manufacturer are the only tested recipes for that piece of equipment and should not be used for canning otherwise.

Mismanaging Ingredients. Leaving out an ingredient or not using the proper amount can result in an unsafe product. Many foods are safe to can due to the added acidity. Forgetting to add acid, using improper proportions of ingredients, or making unapproved substitutions can cause bacteria to grow in your canned foods. For example, white peaches cannot be substituted for yellow peaches. White peaches can have a pH higher than 4.6 which requires them to be pressure canned. Currently, there is no process for pressure-canned white peaches so we recommend freezing them.

Canning your own food is a simple and perfectly safe process when done correctly. Taking canning classes can help provide the best, up-to-date food safety information and get you started on the right foot. N.C. Cooperative Extension is dedicated to providing researched-backed information you can trust. Although canning has been around for over a century, we know so much more about the safety of preserving food, and when you know better, do better.

N.C. Cooperative Extension of Richmond County’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, health, wellness, and nutrition please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Janice Roberts, MS at 910-997-8255.