Fall is the best time of year to fill the pantry as the farmer’s markets, farm stands, and home gardens are abundant with fresh produce just waiting to be preserved for future use. With this in mind it is a great time to discuss some of the benefits and safety concerns of canning foods. People have been preserving food for years. Before the invention of supermarkets, people had to grow and raise their own foods and then find ways to preserve them for use year-round. They used methods such as drying, smoking, curing, pickling and canning. The method of canning was introduced to America in the 1850s and became quite popular with the invention of reusable jars by John Mason and Alexander Kerr, which are both still leading names in canning products today (Wilder, 2012).
Throughout the years these practices quickly became a thing of the past as technology developed and food availability increased. Now we are starting to see a trend towards using these old school preservation methods again. A lot of this has to do with the public’s growing interest in health and nutrition. More and more people are steering away from commercially processed foods and wanting whole foods that are grown locally and organic instead. Home canning allows people to control the quality and quantity of ingredients that go into their foods. Home canned foods can be more nutritious as well if they are processed within a day or two of being harvested to ensure minimal nutrient loss. Most vitamins except for A, C, thiamin and riboflavin handle the canning process well and can retain a majority of their value (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2009).
The variety of foods that can be canned are endless from simple fruits and vegetables, to jams, jellies, syrups, juice, sauces, soups, relishes, pickles and the list goes on. There are two different ways to can foods depending on their acidity level. The water bath method is suitable for high-acid foods such as fruit, pickles, jams and jellies, and tomato products. To use this method the jars are filled with the prepared food, fitted with lids, and then placed into a kettle of boiling water for a minimum of ten minutes. The pressure canning method is preferable for low-acid or combination foods such as meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and soups. To use this method sterilized jars are filled with the prepared food, fitted with lids, then lowered into a pressure canner and processed (Ball, 2014). For more detailed instructions on how to use either of these methods, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation or Ball websites and view their guides.
Food safety can be an issue with canning. If a proper seal is not achieved yeast, mold and bacteria can grow quickly causing the food to spoil. While using a water bath is easiest, it is only appropriate for the processing of highly acidic foods since microorganisms are less likely to grow in this environment. Pressure canning is a more effective and safer method for use with less acidic or combination foods as it enables the jars to be brought to a high enough temperature to kill off any bacteria. The foodborne illness, botulism, is notoriously affiliated with canned foods and can occur even when jars are sealed properly so taking all precautions is important (National Center for Home Food Preservation, n.d.).
The following tips can help to ensure an enjoyable and safe canning experience:
- Use fresh and unblemished foods.
- Follow recipes and equipment instructions precisely.
- Adjust processing temperatures and times for altitude if necessary.
- Maintain a clean work space, with clean utensils, and wash hands frequently.
- Sterilize jars before filling.
- Preheat lids by simmering in water for several minutes to soften the sealing compound.
- Once filled, wipe the rim of the jar clean before placing the lid on it.
- Carefully place jars in and out of the canner to avoid breaking the fragile, hot glass.
- Inspect each lid before moving to storage.
- Store canned foods in a clean, cool, dark and dry place.
- Only can enough food to use within a year.
- When in doubt, do not consume jars that appear to be unsealed. Look for signs of spoilage including cloudiness, mold, changes in color or consistency, and off odors.
Ball. (2014). Getting started. Retrieved from http://www.freshpreserving.com/getting-started
National Center for Home Food Preservation. (n.d.). General canning information. Retrieved from http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html
U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2009). Complete guide to home canning. Retrieved from http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html
Wilder, A. (2012). Canning 101: The basic steps of canning & preserving. Retrieved from https://eatingrules.com/canning-basics/
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