A challenging economy and growing interest in eating local is turning the art of preserving food at home into a popular trend. But no matter what you are canning, food safety is an essential part of the process. Here are some tips and resources for making sure your bounty stays safe to long into the winter:
- Use research tested recipes.
Not all canning recipes are created equal, even if they come from a cookbook. How do you know if your recipe is safe? Use recipes from the following trusted resources:
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Ball Blue Book, and Ball’s website at www.freshpreserving.com
Remember – Grandma’s recipes can’t be guaranteed to kill the microbes of today.
- Check your pressure canner gauge.
If you are canning low acid foods (vegetables or meats), you must use a pressure canner. If you are using a gauge canner, make sure you have your gauge tested annually – before you begin canning – to make sure the gauge is still properly calibrated. If it is not, you will need to replace the gauge before you begin canning. Your county extension office can test your gauge for you for free. In Oneida County, testing is done year-round on Thursdays.
- Be sure to check your elevation.
Oneida County elevation is more than 1,000 feet above sea level. This means that water boils at a lower temperature, so all of your processing times and pressures need to be adapted to make sure you have a safe product.
- If you can tomatoes, add lemon juice.
Your tomatoes might not be acid enough to be safely water bath canned. Tomatoes’ natural acidity changes depending on their ripeness, the heat of the summer, the amount of rain in a given year, their variety, and many more things. The only safe way to ensure that your tomatoes will can safely is to add bottled lemon juice. Always make sure you are following a new (1994 and after) recipe to make sure you tomatoes stay safe and tasty.
- Make sure your vinegar is 5% acid.
Not all vinegars sold are created equal. Some stores are selling 4% vinegar – which has less of a bite and is often cheaper. BEWARE! 4% acidity is not enough to guarantee a safe relish, salsa or pickled product.
- Use new lids.
One of the great things about canning is you can reuse the jars and rings year after year after year (as long as they aren’t cracked, chipped, or rusty). But always use new canning lids to ensure a proper seal each time.
- When in doubt, call.
Your UW-Extension agents are here to help answer your questions. We also have videos and other resources to help you get started, do things better, and make sure you have a pantry full of safe and healthful food all winter long.