First posted on 04-17-2009
By Benjamin Waldrum
Home canning food may help make the most of fresh produce and stretch a food budget, says Dr. Denise Brochetti, assistant professor-nutrition with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
“Canning may or may not save you money,” says Brochetti. “It all depends on your particular situation.” There are many things people should consider before starting to can. Special care must be taken to ensure home-canned food doesn’t spoil.
* Methods. Different foods require different processes and equipment. “You will need a pressure canner to can meats and low-acid vegetables like corn and green beans, and you will need a water bath canner to can fruits, pickles, jellies, and jams,” says Brochetti.
* Safety. Botulism, a deadly foodborne illness, is a risk when low-acid foods are canned improperly. You must use scientifically tested procedures and recipes to ensure safe, high-quality canned food. The National Center for Home Food Preservation web site and the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning are two excellent starting points for both new and experienced canners.
* Selection. It’s important to start with fresh ingredients – grocery stores, farmers’ markets, farms and home gardens are all options. Try to find the most economical source to the cost of canning food low.
* Storage. Home-canned food must be used within a year. “It needs to be stored in a cool, dry place for it to keep its quality,” says Brochetti. Do not store jars above 95 degrees Fahrenheit or near hot pipes, a range, a furnace, in an attic without insulation, or in direct sunlight—this will cause the food to spoil quickly.
To ensure quality, can just-harvested produce quickly—within six to 12 hours for most vegetables, within a day or so for most fruits, and within two days for fresh meat. Diseased or moldy food should not be used, and any bruises or lesions should be removed prior to preparing the food for canning.
There are advantages to home canning, but those are lost when poor quality food is used and when improper seals or storage cause food to spoil or lose flavors and texture.
The key to properly canning food is careful planning and preparation. “If you are thinking about canning, plan ahead to save yourself time and money,” says Brochetti.
For more information on canning food at home, contact your county Extension office or visit http://www.uaex.edu. The Cooperative Extension Service is a part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
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