Canning Safety

I love to can and preserve foods, with the majority of my favorites being the foods my Nana (grandmother) “put up” (canned) at the end of every summer as the gardens and farm stands retired for a long winter ahead. We enjoyed the tastes of summer long after the first snowflakes flew.

I thought I had been well schooled in the art of canning, but when brushing up on my skills as a part of running a specialty food business in New England, I realized that Nana really was up on how to safely can and preserve, but other people, not so much. I witnessed some sketchy practices from vendors at farmers’ markets that left me feeling like I was negligent if I did not herd potential customers away from a vendor who did not really understand the dangers inherent in home-canned food if done incorrectly or carelessly. Let’s just say, I was very picky when purchasing foods from market vendors for my own family to eat and only dealt with those who had proper certification and insurance. There really are good reasons why food vendors and manufacturers are required to follow strict guidelines.

Because I often get requests for recipes that require canning and proper processing, and because EVERYONE should know basic food safety measures when making home preserved foods, I thought this would be a good time to pass along some very helpful information to those of you interested in “putting up” your own foods.

I highly recommend anyone new to home canning, or those who feel they could use a refresher, read in whole, the “USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning“. This in depth resource covers canning of multiple foods such as fruits and vegetables, tomato products, meats and seafoods, and jams and jellies.

Canning your home-grown produce or that purchased locally at a farmers’ market or stand is a great way to enjoy the bounty of the growing season all year round, but it is important to know how to do so in a safe manner. If canning is done improperly, there is a risk of contracting botulism poisoning from the finished product.

Botulism poisoning is a serious disease caused by a germ found in soil. If you can your food improperly, the toxin that causes botulism can grow in your canned food and can make you sick when you eat it – it can even kill you.

Canning safety can be broken up into two parts: pre-canning precautions and post-canning precautions. 

Before You Can

To help avoid allowing the toxin that causes botulism to grow in your canned food, it is important to use the appropriate canning equipment and techniques while also following up-to-date instructions. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) offers some tips to help reduce the risk of getting sick from canning:

  • Food Choice: It is essential to make sure you start with fruits and vegetables that are fresh and thoroughly washed. Some foods may need to be peeled in order to help remove bacteria before canning.
  • Sterilization: Prior to canning, it is vital to adequately clean all of your materials. A tip to effective sterilization for your jars and lids is to soak them in 1 cup of vinegar per gallon of water for several hours, the NCHFP says.
  • Using Suitable Supplies: The NCHFP recommends to can your produce using a pressure canner or boiling water canner; otherwise your risk of your foods spoiling increases.  Using these canners allows for higher temperature to kill bacteria. You should also make sure that the time the jars are submerged in the canners is correct. Accurate submersion time should be found in the canning recipe.
  • Consider Food Acidity: The way in which you go about canning your fruits and vegetables — boiling water canner or pressure canner — depends on the food’s acidity. Higher-acidity and lower-acidity foods require different canning techniques. Low-acidity foods are not acidic enough to kill the bacteria, while high-acidity foods may help block bacteria growth in some cases. The NCFHFP provides a chart to help you determine different foods’ acidity.
  • Altitude: Modifications to your canning procedure may be necessary due to your altitude, which is something some people might not remember to take into account. The NCHFP gives another chart to help you adjust the canning process based on altitude.

After You Can

Safety checks should be performed when you go to open a jar of your canned food at a later date. Before enjoying the fruits of your labors, you should do an initial critique. Your food might be contaminated if it has any of these characteristics: 

  • The jar is dripping or bulging.
  • The food is moldy, discolored, or smells foul.
  • The jar is damaged or cracked.
  • Liquid or foam spurts from the jar when it’s opened.

If you even suspect the food might be contaminated, throw it away and use bleach to clean any areas where it may have spilled. Never take the risk and test food if you are uncertain of its condition, and if the jar or can looks damaged or is bulging, throw it away without opening it.

After taking the safety components into consideration, you are ready to start canning!

This video will walk you through the basics of pressure canning and water bath canning plus the equipment you will need for canning your own food..

For water bath canning, I love this 9 Piece Granite Ware Enamel-on-Steel Canning Kit. It comes with the basic accessories you need, plus a quality canner and lid.

For pressure canning, the All American 15-1/2-Quart Pressure Cooker Canner holds approximately 10 standard regular mouth pint jars or 7 standard regular mouth quart jars – plenty of room for a great majority of the yield quantity of home canning recipes. But if you need a larger size, it is available in several different sizes up to 41.5 quarts! It features an exclusive “metal-to-metal” sealing system for a steam-tight seal; no gaskets to crack, burn, replace or clean and an easy to read geared steam gauge; automatic over-pressure release; settings of 5 psi, 10 psi, and 15 psi.

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