Important Information About Home Canning

Nothing brings a nostalgic memory of our youth quite like opening a jar of homemade Bread and Butter Pickles or Spiced Peaches or seeing jar after gleaming jar of home-preserved tomatoes, beans and other vegetables parading across a pantry shelf.  But in the midst of all this excitement, we must remember some important safety guidelines.

When it comes to our food, you can find contaminants everywhere - in the air, the water, the soil, the food itself and the biggest culprit, humans.  That is why it is vital that when home-canning, everything in sight - utensils and cooking vessels, counters and cutting surfaces, jars, lids, rings, hands and produce must be kept sanitary.   One thing to do that cannot be stressed enough is to wash hands thoroughly between handlings.  This means if you drop a cloth on the floor and pick it up, wash your hands.  Rinsed and cut up some squash?  Wash your hands before proceeding to next step.  I think you get the idea.  Other than that, following are some of the easiest and best ways I've learned to accomplish keeping things sanitary and still manage to actually make the canning process enjoyable.

1.  Before even starting on a canning session, I make sure my kitchen surfaces, cooking vessels and utensils, canning jars and rings, measuring equipment, everything, has been thoroughly cleaned of dust and debris and washed, and then all surfaces are wiped with a solution of 1 part bleach to 4 parts water.  This solution is strong smelling so I suggest wearing a protective mask and rubber gloves.  Afterwards, I wash all cooking vessels, jars, rings, etc. (NOT the lids, or flats) in my dishwasher on the hottest setting to destroy any remaining bacteria.  I also prefer to leave the jars and rings in the dishwasher until ready to fill, running them through a very hot rinse cycle again right before filling.  If you do not have a dishwasher, wash vessels, jars, etc. in the hottest soapy water you have, rinsing thoroughly with equally hot water.  Keep the jars upright filled with clean hot water until needed.  Place jar lids in a sanitary shallow pan and fill to 1 inch over top of lids with boiling water. Some authorities say if you live in elevations higher than 1,000 feet above sea level or if using a recipe requiring less than 10 minutes processing, sterilize jars by boiling them for 10 minutes, (add 1 minute for each 1,000-foot increase in elevation.)

2.  Never reduce pressure canner recommendations or cooking times in a recipe.  Too short a processing time is an open invitation to a spoiled product.  If canning a mixed product, such as tomatoes with corn, you must process the product for the length of time and at the pressure recommended for the most vulnerable of the contents, in this case, the corn.

3.  Hide your cloth dishrag or sponge.  More bacteria are spread with these culprits than most anything else.  Use paper towels, discarding after each use.

4.  This really should be included in the first recommendation above.  Always thoroughly flush the fruit or vegetable you are preparing with lots of clean water, removing any debris at this time.  Even if you grow organically, you don't know what your neighbors are using on their plants and lawns, so don't take chances.

5.  After using any cutting or measuring instrument or cutting surface, always wash with soapy water and rinse thoroughly before using for anything else.

6.  Keep food product preferably at boiling temperatures until it goes into the jar, or pour boiling liquid into jar over product.  After filling jars, allowing recommended headspace, use a spatula to remove any air bubbles that might be trapped in the product, then wipe the rims down with a dampened paper towel before applying lids and rings, changing paper towels with each jar.

7.  Do not disturb jars for 12 hours after they are removed from canner.  Allow jars to sit on several layers of cloth in a cool - not cold - room that has no drafts.  After jars have cooled, check to see if the seals have collapsed; hand tighten rings at that time, but do not over tighten.  If the lid has not collapsed, you must either completely redo the boiling and canning process or throw the contents out.

8.  Last but not least, keep the pets out of the rooms canning is being done in.  Pet hair and dander can travel without you even being aware of it.

Allowing for Altitude Changes

The processing times and headspace in these recipes are recommended based on sea-level altitude. Different altitudes require different processing times.  Someone living on the coast will not have to process jars for as long a time as someone living in the mountains.  Check with your local extension office for guidelines to adjust for your altitude.

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