Are you making these mistakes when you are preserving your food? Avoiding common canning mistakes to make your home canned food safer is important!
Part of the homesteading lifestyle, no matter how large your homestead is, is preserving foods. Some methods of food preservation can take the form of canning, freezing, dehydrating, or fermentation.
You grow a garden, have lots of veggies all over, and you need a way to keep eating them even when the gardening season is over. Many of us will turn to canning as the first option to preserve that goodness.
Home canning is fairly easy to learn. It takes some practice, and even some failures to master the skill. Keeping your food safe to eat will require you to learn some methods of preserving your food properly. Dealing with the common canning questions and issues that come up gives you the confidence you need to be a master canner.
Get the Right Canning Equipment
One of the biggest problems when starting out in home canning is lack of proper canning equipment. The first time I tried canning, I went to the orchard to pick apples to make homemade applesauce. I only had one large pot, so I cut the apples up, cooked them until they were soft, and put in the blender bit by bit to turn to sauce.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a canner, so I washed the pot out, filled it with boiling water and proceeded to water bath can the applesauce in there. It took me nearly 18 hours to make that 1/2 bushel of apples into canned applesauce, and I came out with a mere 6 quarts for my efforts.
Lesson learned here was that a proper water bath canner AND a stock pot to cook the apples is necessary. When you have jars sitting on the bottom of a stock pot without a barrier between the jars and pot, it can create issues. Jar breakage, lack of proper sealing, or burning the pot can occur.
Having the right equipment when canning food makes all the difference in your success.
Proper canning equipment for home canning:
- Water bath canner for high acid foods (fruits, jams, jellies)
- Pressure canner for low acid foods (veggies like green beans, peas, potatoes)
- Proper canning jars
- New canning lids
- Clean bands (can be reused)
- Timer to keep track of processing time
- Jar lifter to remove jars from hot canners
- Metallic lid lifter
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Stock pots to cook and prepare food
- Sharp knives
- Cutting boards
- Jar funnel
Canning Lids 101
Canning lids can be a controversial subject, believe it or not. Some are adamant that you can reuse the metal canning lids as long as they are still in the same shape. Others hold to the belief that it’s not safe at all to reuse a lid.
The metal, throwaway, canning lids of today are very thin. The seal on the back of the lid (the red ring) is not designed to be heated and used more than once. If you want to avoid lots of trash, consider using a hard, BPA free plastic lid that is designed to be reused such as these from Tattler lids.
You will also need to know how to test canning lids in home canning situations.
To test canning lids in home canning for a proper seal, you will need to allow the jars to cool completely. This can take 12-24 hours. Once the jar and lid are completely cool:
Push on the center of the lid gently.
- If it “pops”, it hasn’t sealed properly. This will require the food to either be stored in the refrigerator and used within 3 days, or to be reprocessed and recanned using a new lid.
- If it stays “put” and doesn’t pop back up, the lid has formed a proper seal and the jar can be wiped off clean and stored.
Gently pull up on the outside of the lid.
- If the lid moves at all, a proper seal has not been formed. Store the food in the refrigerator or reprocess.
- If the lid does not move at all, a proper seal has been formed and the jar can be wiped clean and stored.
Water Bath Canner Vs. Pressure Canner
In order to keep food safety in home canning, you will need to process your foods correctly. Modern methods of home canning are quite different than what Grandma used to do. Our bacteria, soils, and even some of the food is also different.
Heirloom tomatoes, for example, can vary in the amount of acid they produce. Each plant can have fruit that can vary in acid levels from vine to vine. Keeping safety practices at the forefront of your mind will be very important.
Water bath canning is for foods that are naturally high in acid, or will have acid added to them. This refers to fruits such as peaches, pears, and berries; jams, jellies, pickles, and salsas and other prepared foods that have sugar or vinegar added to them.
If you decide to use a water bath canner for tomatoes, it is often suggested that you add acid, such as lemon juice to each jar to keep the acid to a safe level. This does not change the flavor of the food at all.
A boiling water bath canner only reaches temps of 212 degrees. This is not high enough to kill botulism bacteria in low acid foods, such as meats, green beans, peas, corn, and many other vegetables. You must use pressure canning to be safe in those situations.
Labeling your jars is very important.
Once, when I was canning tomato products, I figured I would remember what they were and not need to label them. One of the jars got stored in the back of the pantry.
It was nearly a year until it was uncovered again. I had no idea what was in it at all. After a couple of days of just staring at the jar, willing the contents to identify themselves, I finally opened the jar to find pizza sauce.
The lesson learned here is to always label your jars. You think you may remember what’s in them, but it’s so easy to forget. Some ideas for how to label your jars:
- Use a sharpie to write on the lid
- Use wash off labels (available here)
Storing the jars properly will also be important.
Some will disagree with me, but stacking jars on top of each other directly is never safe. This can cause the lid to come loose, but appear to still be sealed. Often referred to as a “false seal”, it can create mold in the food you might not even see. A false seal allows air to reach the food, starting decay.
Keeping the bands on the canned jars can also cause a false seal. It’s better to remove the band and not take the chance at all, than to keep the band on the jar.
Storing the jars in a cool, dry place is also important as extreme temperature fluxuations can also cause false seals. A place where the room temperature is more constant is ideal, such as a basement or storage cellar.
Lesson learned here is to NOT stack your jars upon each other. Use jar boxes if you need the room, or even store the jars under a bed or in a closet to avoid having to do that. Keep them at a constant temperature if at all possible.
Use a trusted and reliable recipe
When canning, especially your first few times, you will want to use a trusted and reliable canning recipe. A proper recipe is one that has been tested, follows proper canning procedures, and has proven to be safe.
Grabbing a few canning guides with tried, true, tested recipes will go a long way in your home canning adventures. Here are some of my favorites:
- “The Organic Canner” by Daisy Luther
- Joy of Cooking (has huge canning sections)
- Ball Blue Book of Canning
Following a few safety guidelines and having proper equipment will be important in keeping your food and family safe. What are some other questions you have about home canning?