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Old-fashioned tradition of canning becomes an exact science

Proper equipment and measurements key to safely preserving food

POSTED: July 24, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Canning is a time-honored kitchen tradition.

When a home cook prepares a homemade dish and wants to preserve it, he or she will sometimes use heat to seal it in a can and store it for later use. However, the conventional art of canning has changed into a science.

Exact measurements, temperatures, procedures and processing times have to be used to can properly. The equipment and details all depend on specific, scientific guidelines in place to assure food safety.

In a class called “Preserve the Harvest” led by Michele Melton of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, procedures, equipment, ingredients and much more were discussed for beginners in canning at Forsyth County Public Library.

Melton explained canning and general home food preservation instruction are in high demand.

“It’s really been a request,” she said. “Family Consumer Science Extension programming covers a wide variety of topics, but year after year, this is one that continues to be requested.”

Melton said lately the interest in canning has been because of concern about what ingredients and artificial preservatives are in commercially packaged foods.

“I think a lot of the emphasis on canning now comes from the fact that people are concerned about what’s in their food,” she said. “It’s just really appealing for that reason.”

Lumpkin County resident Tracey Wimpy said she likes to know what’s in the products she eats. The certified food preservation expert also enjoys it because she can cook and preserve foods she grows at home.

“I like knowing exactly what’s in that jar” said Wimpy, who received her certification from University of Georgia class. “When I open it, I know it’s green beans that I grew out of my garden, and there’s a little bit of salt and water.”

Ingredients usually added to preserve color and taste are natural and can be purchased at regular grocery stores. These include lemon juice, powdered citric acid and vinegar. Equipment and canners can be bought at most regular retail stores.

Whether bought in a kit or bought separately, it’s important to have all required equipment when one begins canning. It’s all in the details.

Key details Melton included in her presentation were how pH levels determine what processing method is used to can a product. For example, acid foods, such as fruit or pickles, are processed differently than low-acid foods such as vegetables and meat.

Foods high in acid are best when processed in a boiling water canner, which is a more traditional method. Lower-acidic foods need a little more attention and may need added ingredients and air, or “head space,” which is the space between the product and the lid. They are best processed in a pressure canner.

Another less-known factor of canning is altitude. If you live in the mountains, for example, canning procedures and temperatures will be different than someone who lives on flat land.

Of course, every procedure is designed to protect the safety of the consumer. Food-borne illness, such as botulism, is a large risk when canning at home.

Clostridium botulinum is a dangerous food poison. The microorganism is created when processing is not completed correctly in canning. It is important to avoid this because botulism thrives in room temperature conditions, where canned products are usually stored, and can grow over time.

The initial procedure is crucial to prevent spoiling that fosters botulism. Flat lids and metal screw bands are the recommended sealers for jars. Flat lids that ultimately seal the jars should never be reused.

Metal screw bands are different. Although they secure the flat lid, they are not involved in the scientific sealing process. The bands can be reused as long as they have no rust or dents. The slightest dent can compromise the safety of using the metal again.

Although it is recommended for quality reasons that foods stay preserved for no longer than a year, leaving a product canned for more than a year does not necessarily mean it will spoil. Still, over a period longer than a year, most products will be affected in taste, color and general quality if not consumed.

Wimpy highly recommended not altering from the processing instructions for home canning.

“You just need to get a good canning reference, like the Ball canning book, and follow the directions to the letter,” Wimpy said. “I wouldn’t alter any kind of processing times. You need to follow that exactly to get good results.”

For more information about canning or step-by-step instructions, visit www.homefoodpreservation.com.


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