With the growing popularity of farmer's markets and a struggling economy, home canning is making a robust come-back. Well planned backyard gardens can yield an abundance of food all at once, and canning is one way to make the fruits and vegetables last beyond the growing season. But, without proper handling and know how, some food preserving projects can turn into a hotbed for bacteria and foodborne illness. The biggest concern is C. botulinim (botulism); a bacterium so lethal that even a single taste of contaminated food can be deadly. While botulism poisoning is fairly rare, (the CDC has documented 400 cases in the last 50 years) 92% of these cases were caused by home canned foods. Here are some tips to preserve the harvest safely.
* Start with the freshest possible produce. By harvesting at the peak of ripeness, you can also maximize the nutritional value.
* Don't improvise. It is crucial to follow food selection, preparation, filling and processing instructions to the letter, and use recipes that have been tested and properly developed.
* Prepare your equipment as carefully as you prepare your foods. Jars and lids should be properly sterilized; running them through the dishwasher is not sufficient!
* Use kettles designed for canning.
* Know your altitude. Proper procedures depend on it - check with your local extension service or weather station.
* Don't reuse canning lids.
* Store canned foods properly. They retain their quality and nutritional value best when stored between 50 & 70 degrees F. Consume with-in two years, and give extras away as gifts.
* Inspect for signs of spoilage. Look for leaks; lids should be concave and firmly sealed. Check for mold, changes in color or odor. If in doubt, throw it out. Be extra vigilant about safety with low-acid foods.
* Before starting your canning project, consult the USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning or an other reliable source on safe home canning procedures.
For those trying canning for the first time, start with less risky acid foods such as pickles, jams, and preserves. These can all be prepared with a simple boiling water canner, and are a great way to practice proper canning procedures.
Canning Jargon Explained:
Acid foods: Foods with a pH of 4.6 or lower. Includes fruits, tomatoes, pickles, salsas, relishes, jams, jellies, marmalades.
Boiling Water Canner: Large lidded kettle with a wire rack to hold the canning jars. Designed for processing canned foods at 212 degrees F.
Cold Pack/Raw Pack: Method of canning in which raw, unheated foods are added to jars and then heat processed.
Fermentation: Introduction of selected bacteria, yeasts or molds that block growth of undesirable bacteria and preserve foods.
Headspace: Unfilled space at top of jars that allows for food to expand during the heat processing and ensures formation of a vacuum as the food cools, which is important for preservation.
Hot Pack: Method of canning where foods are heated and added to canning jars while hot.
Low Acid Foods: Foods with a pH above 4.6; vegetables, figs, some tomatoes, meat, seafood, and dairy. Low acid foods can be acidified by adding vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid prior to canning. Low acid foods must be processed in a pressure canner to destroy the organism that causes botulism.
Pickling: Adding vinegar or lemon juice to low-acid foods in order to bring the pH to 4.6 or lower.
Pressure Canner: A Large kettle with a locking lid and pressure gauge that allows heat processing at temperatures above 212 degrees F. A pressure cooker is not the same thing!
The USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning is available for free at http://www.foodsaving.com/canning_guide/
Or visit Ball canning supply at http://www.freshpreserving.com/
~ ADA Times