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Carin Booth: How to preserve food in a few easy steps
Carin Booth
Carin Booth.

By this time of year, many gardeners are beginning to see the fruits (or vegetables) of their early spring labor. Local farmers markets are ripe with local produce which may cause us to purchase more than we can possibly eat before it goes bad. 

So, what is the answer to this overabundance of produce? Canning. 

You can make your favorite tomatoes into a tomato sauce to use throughout the season while preserving that fresh garden taste. Or what about those sweet Georgia peaches? Why not try a peach salsa recipe to enjoy throughout the year. 

Now that the decision has been made to preserve those foods, how do we know that we are preserving foods safely?

First, it starts with understanding the goal of preserving foods. Not only do we want to maintain the quality and safety, we also want to make perishable foods shelf stable for up to one year. Oxygen and enzymes are present throughout fresh food tissues, which cause spoilage.

Heating foods in a sealed canning jar to a specific temperature for a specific length of time destroys normal levels of heat-resistant microorganisms, such as Clostridium botulinum- also known as botulism. 

Air is also forced from the jar during processing creating a vacuum seal. This prevents microorganisms from entering the jar, contaminating the food. It also keeps liquid inside the jar. 

Collectively, these practices remove oxygen; destroy enzymes; prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria, yeasts and molds, and help form a high vacuum in jars. 

Next, we need to understand the foods we are preserving. For canning purposes, foods can be divided into two categories: low-acid and high-acid. 

Foods that are considered high-acid have a pH of 4.6 or lower. These are fruits and soft spreads. Pickles, sauerkraut and tomatoes also fall under this category due to the addition of acid, such as vinegar. 

If the recipe calls for added acid, be sure to use commercially bottled lemon juice, 5 percent acidity vinegar, or citric acid. These low-acid foods should be processed in a boiling water canner.

Low-acid foods have a pH higher than 4.6 and include vegetables, soups, meat, meat sauces, poultry, and seafood. These foods can only be processed in a pressure canner using a USDA tested recipe. Those recipes can be found at nchfp.uga.edu. Temperatures in a pressure canner must be higher than the boiling point to destroy a heat resistant spore, such as botulism. 

If you’ve purchased a dial gauge pressure canner or inherited one from family, it’s important to have the dial gauge tested for accuracy. An inaccurate gauge could measure pressure lower or higher than actual pressure. 

Most UGA Extension offices provide free dial gauge testing. Contact the Hall County Extension office at 770-535-8293 or email at boothc@uga.edu. 

Keep your friends and family safe by following these guidelines. That way, you can continue to enjoy your garden produce safely throughout the year. 

Carin Booth is the family and consumer sciences agent at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in Hall County. She can be reached at 770-535-8293 or boothc@uga.edu.

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