Spring has arrived and gardening season is underway. Nothing tastes better than locally grown produce picked fresh from the garden.
Many people preserve the season’s bounty to use once the growing season has passed. For those who preserve food, now is a great time to gear up for the season. Start by inventorying supplies and getting a head start on purchasing needed jars and lids and other necessities. Now is also a great time to make sure equipment is working properly and ready to use. Nothing is more frustrating than having produce ready to process and the canner not work.
Pressure canners made after 1997 have been redesigned to increase accuracy and are safer to use. If you have an older canner, you may want to look into purchasing a new model, especially if you preserve a large quantity of vegetables or meats.
Canning jars: The most common size jars used in home food preservation are pints and quarts. Once canning season is in full swing, they can be difficult to find. Now is a great time to stock up on needed jars, lids and bands. Avoid using jars that have been used repeatedly as they weaken after each use. Visually inspect each jar for cracks or nicks paying close attention to the rim. Use jars designed for home food preservation. Avoid using commercial glass jars in which you purchased food, such as spaghetti or pickles. The lid surface may be narrower and the glass may crack or break more easily.
These factors could result in jar breakage during processing or the lid becoming unsealed afterwards.
Lids and bands: The only lids recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are two-piece sets. Canning lids are designed for one-time use and should not be reused for future home canning. Doing so significantly increases the risk of food spoilage and bacterial contamination. Newly manufactured lids contain a reformulated compound that no longer needs to be heated prior to use. Bands can be reused but tend to rust if not stored properly. To prevent rusting, bands should be removed from canned products 24 hours after processing and prior to food storage. Simply wash, rinse and thoroughly dry the bands and store in a dry environment until ready for use.
Bands do not need to stay on the product during storage.
Spices, herbs and additives: Watch for sales on spices, vinegar or additives designed for home canning. Check expiration dates on pectin and other products left over from last year’s canning. If in doubt, throw it out and replace. All vinegars should contain at least 5 percent acidity to be safe for home canning. Salt should not contain iodine, which can make liquids appear cloudy in home canned goods. Now is a great time to plant herbs to preserve or use in preservation recipes later in the season.
Bacteria, molds and yeast can grow quickly on fresh foods, and fruits and vegetables contain oxygen and enzymes that can cause food to spoil. Safe home canning methods help prevent the growth of these bacteria, yeast and molds in addition to removing excess oxygen from the food, which destroys spoilage enzymes and helps form strong vacuum seals on the jars.
You should remember several key points of proper food preservation to keep yourself and your family healthy and safe from botulism, which can be a deadly form of food poisoning.
Despite what you may find on the Web or social media, only two methods are acceptable for home canning safe, quality products. They are the boiling water canning method and the pressure canner method. The type of food you are preserving will dictate which method to use. Boiling water canners can be used on fruits and other products that have a high concentration of acid, such as salsas or pickles with enough lemon juice or vinegar added. Acid helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in canned food. Vegetables, poultry and meats do not contain enough acid to prevent the growth of bacteria. For these foods, a boiling water canner will not reach a high enough temperature to destroy the bacteria that can cause botulism, so you must use a pressure canner to ensure safe processing.
Make sure to use up-to-date equipment that’s in proper working condition. It’s never a good idea to purchase a pressure canner at a yard sale as replacement parts and manufacturer’s instructions may be no longer available.
Remember to always use tested, research-based recipes to preserve foods. These recipes are available in Cooperative Extension Service home canning publications, in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Complete Guide to Home Canning or on the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website. Follow each recipe as closely as possible. Do not make additions or changes unless options are provided in the recipe. Not following the recipe precisely or using a recipe that is not research-based, may not completely kill all bacteria and result in sickness.
For more information, contact the Harlan County office of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.
Theresa Howard is the Harlan County extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.