Food Preservation

Canning Safety

By Nikki Honosky, Extension Associate

The summer heat has settled in and, pretty soon, it will be time for canning all of the produce that has grown over the last few months. Depending on if you had planted anything in your own private garden, it shouldn’t be long before it starts to produce, depending on the type of plant. The time is also approaching for various berries, such as blackberries, to be picked. No matter what you deal with, something that they all have in common is that they can be canned.

Canning can help preserve for later all of the produce that you have harvested. Canning can be versatile, because you don’t have to keep the produce in its original form. The process allows you to can it in various forms, such as jam, jellies, soups and more, and helps to save on preparation when you get it out for use later.

While canning can be incredibly useful, it is important to do so safely. The most important safety measure is to use a pressure canner instead of the traditional water bath method. While you can use the water bath method for certain foods, it is unwise to do without a pressure cooker. The pressure cooker helps to can food safely due to the high temperatures it uses. The high temperatures help to prevent the risk of botulism, which can become a deadly toxin. Also don’t get just any pressure cooker. Ensure that the one you get is specifically meant for canning. When canning, make sure that you follow the most recent canning instructions carefully.

The next important safety measure is making sure your equipment is properly cleaned and sanitized. This mostly relates to your canning jars and lids. First, clean the jars and lids with hot, soapy water and make sure to dry it thoroughly. Then get a few decent-sized pots and fill them with water. Next, heat the water until it is near to a boil. Have one pot for your jars and another for your lids. Let them sit long enough that they’re sanitized enough for use. Use tongs or something similar to get them out of the water and then let them sit enough to dry. Make sure you are careful when dealing with both the jars and lids due to the extreme heat.

Once you have properly prepared your produce in whatever method you desire, place it in the jar. Properly place the lid on correctly. Place your jars in your pressure cooker and ensure the lid is sealed. Start heating up the pressure cooker until it reaches the desired temperature. Monitor the pressure cooker to ensure the temperature stays constant for the desired length of time. Once done, make sure the pressure cooker cools off enough for you to retrieve the canning jars. Lay out a towel on a nearby counter to place the jars on. Let the jars cool off and inspect them periodically to ensure that they are sealing properly. You can tell which jars have been properly sealed by inspecting the lids. There should be an indentation in the lid if it is sealed. If a jar doesn’t seal, don’t keep it, because unsealed jars can be dangerous.

You can easily learn more about this by doing research on the Internet or by asking those that are experienced with canning goods for advice. If you have any questions, you can contact me at the WVSU Extension Office at the Welch Armory. I am available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. Feel free to give me a call at (304) 320-5446.

A Getting-Started Guide to Canning

By Bonnie Dunn, Extension Specialist

Imagine opening your freezer in the dead of winter and removing a small jar of strawberry jam. Your kitchen fills with the aroma of fresh, ripened strawberries, bringing a little bit of summertime into the cold winter months. The reason you have that wonderful aroma? You made your own strawberry jam using proper food preservation techniques.

Food preservation is the process of treating and handling food in such a way as to stop or greatly slow down spoilage while maintaining nutritional value, texture and flavor, and preventing the growth of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms. Common methods of preserving food include drying, freezing, vacuum packing and canning. Let’s take a closer look at canning, a common at-home preservation method.

What You’ll Need

If you are interested in canning smaller amounts of fruits or vegetables, the food preservation companies have made it simple. There are several companies that sell food preservation equipment at budget-friendly prices. Look for a low-cost starter kit that comes with a heat resistant rack, lifter, pint jars (with lids and rings) and a recipe book. This allows you to preserve food using the water bath method in your own large stockpot. This is a great way to give canning a try before you invest in other, more expensive types of equipment. The glass jars used for canning come in small- and wide-mouth varieties. The wide-mouth jar is best for larger pieces of fruit, such as peach halves, and also for larger pickles or beets. Just shop around online and read user reviews to help make an informed choice that works for you.

A Great How-To Guide

One of the oldest and most reliable resources on food preservation is from the USDA. Everything you need to know about canning and food preservation is available in the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning. This resource is for people canning for the first time or for experienced canners wanting to improve their canning practices.

Canning is certainly more involved than some other preservation methods, so arm yourself with the knowledge and equipment you’ll need to preserve your fresh foods for year-round enjoyment.

Meet “The Canning Couple,” Matt & Marsha Wood

“I have worked at West Virginia State University for over 30 years in various positions, largely related to Information Technology. I originally learned canning and food preservation from my grandmother and great aunt. I watched them and helped after school during my childhood.

“Earlier this year, after 27 years of marriage, my wife, Marsha, and I began canning. Our reasons were varied, but primarily we were concerned over the rising costs of food and were still reeling from the loss of two freezers full of food during the 2012 derecho, which knocked out power for several days. Plus, we were also interested in a little quality couple time!

“So I went back to my roots and renewed my interest in the canning process, starting with research into some good resources for information. A couple of my favorites are the National Center for Home Food Preservation (where you’ll find the guide Bonnie references above) and the Food Network website.

“We’ll be sharing our canning experiences here on the Extension Matters blog, including our personally tested recipes and photos of our process. Whether you’re an experienced or beginning canner – or just someone with an interest in getting started – we hope you’ll join us!”

– Matt Wood, WVSU Data Network Manager