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Food Matters

All about fresh, flavorful food

Canning Dos and Donts: Top 5 Rules

We are in prime canning season—August is the month of summer bounty, and thus the perfect time to plan ahead and preserve some of it for the colder months ahead. Whether you’re making pickles, putting up quarts and quarts of tomatoes, or squirreling away a few jars of jam, there are five basic rules to keep in mind in order to ensure the safest and highest quality canned goods you can produce.

home canning

1. Always use a new jar lid each each time! The rubber seal on the jars is thin, so repeated exposure to heat processing over multiple canning sessions could break down the seal, causing food spoilage. Once a lid is removed, mark the top with a marker and use it for other purposes—you can use them for jars that are not being canned (such as dry goods storage, or storage of non-food items) or repurpose them entirely (such as turn them into plant labels for the garden).

2. Use jars expressly intended for canning (such as Ball or Kerr jars). Other jars may not be able to withstand the heat and pressure of canning, especially pressure canning. Commercial canning uses different methods than home canning, and the jars used commercially are meant for one-time use in that they are not designed for repeated canning treatments. So avoid using spaghetti sauce or pickle jars for canning, though reusing those jars for other purposes is a great way to get more life out of them.

3. Only certain foods can be canned via water bath canning—jams/jellies, pickles and tomatoes with added acid. In other words, high acid foods. Low acid foods (like green beans, corn, meat, etc.) must be processed via pressure canning so the food reaches a high enough temperature for safe long-term storage.

4. Don’t can dairy products, like milk and butter. Period. You’ll see a lot of recipes on the internet for canning butter, but that doesn’t mean it’s a safe food-handling practice. Dairy products are low-acid, and too dense to be canned. Freezing dairy products is a much better alternative for long-term storage.

5. Follow canning recipes from reliable authorities, such as Ball or the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Their recipes and formulas are tested for food safety, and they provide the most current guidelines.

The bottom line is: be sensible about canning your own goods at home. When keeping these few basic guidelines in mind, you can ensure that you’re canning the best—and safest—food you can provide for your family.

Amanda is passionate about cooking, gardening and crafting. To read more, please check out Apartment Farm.