With the spring planting season here, gardeners’ anticipation of an abundance of homegrown fruits and vegetables often triggers the desire to can foods at home. While this can be a fun and rewarding way to keep foods long after the harvest season ends, take care to ensure that home-canned foods are safe to eat.
Follow research-based methods and use tested recipes when canning foods at home. Not all recipes for home canning have been tested for safety. Sources of tested recipes include the National Center for Home Food Preservation (www.uga.edu/nchfp), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and manufacturers of home canning equipment and supplies. Recipes from unreliable cookbooks, outdated Extension publications and the general Internet should not be used.
It’s also important to use the right equipment when canning. Some foods can be preserved using a water bath canner, but others must be processed in a pressure canner. If the right canning method is not used, the finished product can cause serious or even fatal illness.
Also, make sure that the equipment you have is in good working order. Experts advise that dial gauges on pressure canners be tested annually to make sure they are accurate. In addition, canners should be checked to make sure they are in good working order.
There are many other aspects to canning that one needs to consider, including jar size, head space and recommended processing times. All of these can influence the safety of the final product. The last thing the Extension Office wants to tell someone is that the food they have just spent hours canning has to be thrown away or redone.
However, if a tested recipe wasn’t used, if unsealed jars were not identified within 24 hours after canning, or if jars were not processed properly (e.g., in a water bath canner instead of a pressure canner), there is no other choice. Nobody likes to throw food away, but nobody wants to get sick (or worse) from eating unsafe food.
If you need information about canning food at home safely, call the Denton County Extension Office at 940-349-2882.
MAGGIE JOVER is the family and consumer sciences county extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension. She can be reached at 940-349-2882.