LaToya Drake

LaToya Drake Barren County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences

Gardens are beginning to bear the fruits of our labor. It is time to start thinking about preserving some of the excess produce for winter months. Safety is of utmost importance for those of us who will be preserving food, because, let’s face it, no one wants to get sick from poorly processed food.

Bacteria, molds and yeast can grow quickly on fresh foods, and fruits and vegetables contain oxygen and enzymes that can cause food to spoil. Safe home canning methods help prevent the growth of these bacteria, yeast and molds in addition to removing excess oxygen from the food, which destroys spoilage enzymes and helps form strong vacuum seals on the jars.

You should remember several key points of proper food preservation to keep yourself and your family healthy and safe from botulism, which can be a deadly form of food poisoning.

Despite what you may find on the Web or social media, only two methods are acceptable for home canning safe, quality products. They are “the boiling water canning method” and “the pressure canner method.” The type of food you are preserving will dictate which method to use. Boiling water canners can be used on fruits and other products that have a high concentration of acid, such as salsas or pickles with enough lemon juice or vinegar added. Acid helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in canned food. Vegetables, poultry and meats do not contain enough acid to prevent the growth of bacteria. For these foods, a boiling water canner will not reach a high enough temperature to destroy the bacteria that can cause botulism, so you must use a pressure canner to ensure safe processing.

Make sure to use up-to-date equipment that’s in proper working condition. It’s never a good idea to purchase a pressure canner at a yard sale as replacement parts and manufacturer’s instructions may be no longer available. Pressure canners made after 1997 were designed with more safety features and weigh less than older canners. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on canner care and maintenance. For dial gauge pressure canners, the accuracy of the gauge should be tested each year. This can be done at your local Extension office.

Remember to always use tested, research-based recipes to preserve foods. These recipes are available in Cooperative Extension Service home canning publications, in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Complete Guide to Home Canning or on the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website. Follow each recipe as closely as possible; take notice of headspace instructions. Do not make additions or changes unless options are provided in the recipe. Not following the recipe precisely or using a recipe that is not research-based, may not completely kill all bacteria and result in sickness.

Use only Mason-type canning jars and self-sealing lids. Do not reuse old jars like those that previously contained peanut butter or mayonnaise. After processing, allow the jars to cool naturally. This helps form a good vacuum seal.

More information on safe food preservation is available at the Barren County Cooperative Extension Service. Additionally, join the Barren County Extension Service for the Nutrition Education Program 3-Day Food Preservation Workshop, July 23rd through the 25th from 9:30am - 3:30pm; this is a free workshop but space is limited. Contact 270-651-3818 for details and to register.

Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.

Drake is the Barren County Cooperative Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences.