Harvest of canned, dried or frozen foods should be safe
Whether new to canning, returning to canning because of the COVID-19 pandemic or always canning the bounty of harvest, there are certain tips that will help ensure time and efforts lead to safe, healthy food for a family.
Use recipes that are up to date. Some canning recommendations have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. While capturing a family-favorite memory might be the goal, recipes from cookbooks and the internet are generally not tested to ensure safety.
Especially if using recipes that date before 2015, it’s a good idea to compare the home recipe with research-tested recipes, choosing a tested recipe to ensure efforts are safe and delicious.
Recipes for canning vegetables or tomatoes, fruits, meats, or even fermenting sauerkraut or making genuine crock pickles, are all available.
Start with equipment in good working order. This canning season, some equipment has been in short supply. Some canners are hard to find, and jars and lids have been scarce. The right equipment is still important.
Remember that some pots can double as a boiling water canner. A boiling water canner should have a flat bottom, so it fits nicely on the stove top and a tight-fitting lid. An alternative to a boiling water canner for acidic fruit or pickles, is to use an atmospheric steam canner. A steam canner uses nonpressurized steam to safely can high-acid foods.
If canning low-acid foods like vegetables or meats, a pressure canner must be used. A pressure canner will have either a dial-gauge or a weighted gauge. A tested recipe will give instructions for using a pressure canner to safely preserve food.
A multicooker, such as an Instant Pot, is not safe for home canning. Review information on safely using a boiling water canner and atmospheric steam canner, or a pressure canner before beginning.
Assemble jars and other items. The UW-Extension recommends standard home canning jars (Mason-style jars) for canning. If choosing to use other types of jars, they must fit a two-piece metal lid and band. There is greater risk of jar breakage and possible seal failure with non-standard canning jars.
Check all jars to make sure they are not chipped or cracked. Only two-piece lids are recommended for home canning. For best performance, lids should be purchased new each year (the sealing compound will break down on storage); although stored in a cool, dry location, lids stored up to three years may seal.
Under no circumstances should canning lids be reused. A jar that does not seal effectively may spoil or the contents may become unsafe. Individuals who have canned for years, are often surprised to find that lids no longer need to be heated before use and they should never be boiled before using.
Jars and lids should be washed in clean, soapy water and rinsed before use. Jars should be pre-heated before filling. Sort through screw bands to make sure they are not rusted before applying.
Other items that come in handy for home canning include jar fillers, tongs and lid wands.
Home canned items should be stored in a cool, dry location. After cooling and jars have sealed, remove screw bands, and gently wash jars and bands in soapy water, rinse, and dry. Washing will remove any food residues that may support mold growth on storage.
Store canned items with the screw bands removed; this makes it easier to see when jars become unsealed. Home canned food is best consumed within one year. Food preserved using a research-tested recipe should retain high quality for up to three years, if stored in a cool location.
What if supplies can’t be found? Some canning supplies are in short supply. Consumers have had trouble finding jars and lids, and canners have even been sold out. For safety sake, consider the following options:
• Freezing – Some items that would normally be canned, may be successfully frozen; this is particularly true of salsas and tomato products. Prepare as directed, package in freezer containers and freeze. While vegetables may be prepared differently for canning and freezing, home-frozen vegetables are a good addition to a family meal. Meat is another item that freezes well.
• Refrigeration – Holding foods in the refrigerator will extend the shelf life for several weeks, allows flexibility in the containers that are used and may be an option for items that cannot be safely canned. Prepare a family-favorite recipe, whether a salsa or soup, and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks; if meat is added, limit store time in the refrigerator to one week.
• Drying – Fruits and vegetables can often be safely dried in an oven or dehydrator at home.
Overall, be sure to make food-safe choices so the pantry and freezer supplies a family with safe and healthy foods, year-round.
For research-tested recipes, freezing, drying and refrigeration tips, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation, at nchfp.uga.edu.