When I talk to customers about canning their food usually one of two things happen. They either:
a) are already doing it and are eager to share a story about their latest project; or
b) they have never done it but want to learn.
So I asked those in the second group what's keeping them from getting started from learning how to can their food at home.
Their answers varied but the #1 reason was the fear that they would accidentally poison their family.
Their concern is valid - food poisoning and botulism are very real things. And, I'm glad that they take it seriously.
However, done properly, home canning can be done safely and can provide you with nutritious food all year long.
What exactly is botulism? It is a toxin that thrives in room temperature, oxygen deprived, moist conditions. It goes way beyond a stomach ache and can be fatal.
You may be thinking - why even take the risk? For me and my family, it comes down to trust. When I can food for my family, I pick from the best fruits and vegetables, follow strict cleanliness rules, and stick to the rules for safe canning. This food gets my personal attention - it hasn't been handled by multiple people in a large facility.
Home canning can be done safely by following a few simple rules:
1) Use approved and tested recipes for your canning projects. That means recipes from your local State Extension Office, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, or any of the Ball® canning resources. Never adjust a recipe, the pounds of pressure, or the processing time.
2) Low acid foods must be pressure canned. Examples of low acid foods are vegetables and meat. Botulism spores cannot survive in temperatures over 240°F. Pressure canning brings the temperature high enough to kill off any botulism spores.
3) Water bath canning is used for high acid foods only. Examples of high acid foods are pickles, jams, and most fruits. Often acid is added in the recipe to bring the food up to a safe level. Common acids used include vinegar and lemon juice. The vinegar must be labeled at 5% acidity and use only bottled lemon juice since the acidity of fresh lemons can vary between varieties. Test the acid level of the recipe before canning using pH test strips to ensure that the pH is 4.6 or lower.
4) Most importantly - curb your creativity when canning. Altering a recipe can make your food unsafe.
If canning is something that you've always wanted to do but have been afraid or unsure of where to begin, we're here to help.
We will be holding canning and food preservation workshops at the Farm Stand this year and invite you to join us. Be sure that you have signed up for our emails so you can be notified of the upcoming workshop schedules.