When in doubt...ask for advice
When I was an Extension agent for Colorado State University my summers were filled with frantic calls from home canners. Mostly the calls came from nervous cooks who just spent hours in the kitchen canning salsa, preserving tomatoes or making jam. Now they wanted to know - is it safe to share with family and friends?
Once those colorful jars came out of the canner...they would begin to worry and call the Extension office. Can this recipe I found on the internet be trusted? Does the canning process I used in Texas work in Colorado? Is it still safe if made a few substitutions to the recipe? I grew up canning with my grandma and want to preserve food for my own family - did I do it right?
I’m glad they call for advice because home food preservation is challenging and requires a lot of time, energy and resources. It is important to do it correctly so that you can serve it to friends and family with confidence.
If you are considering home-canning for the first time, or it has been awhile since you pulled out that pressure canner, let me give you a few tips from the food safety experts at Colorado State University:
- Start with fresh, quality ingredients. Select produce at its peak of freshness and flavor from a farm stand or straight from your garden. When possible choose varieties that are best suited for canning. Food preservation takes time and effort, so don’t compromise your final product by starting with over-ripe, or bruised produce. Remember, the process of preserving food does not improve its quality, it just makes it safe to store at room temperature.
- Use jars and lids intended for home canning. Old mayonnaise jars or other jars from commercially processed food are made of thin glass and can break during processing. Mason jars and lids made specifically for home canning assure a good seal, less breakage and can keep your canned goods safe for 1-2 years on the shelf.
Use a tested recipe and follow it precisely. Our understanding of safe canning practices has changed over the years. Grandma’s “tried and true” methods of canning may not be safe with the new types of produce that are being grown. By using up-to-date canning instructions from reliable, tested sources such as the Ball Blue Book, USDA and Extension you can be assured of a safe product.
- Adjust your processing for our high altitude. When preserving food at higher altitudes, processing time and temperatures should be adjusted. We need to extend the food’s exposure to heat during processing in order to destroy microorganisms.
How we adjust our processing differs depending on whether the food is high-acid or low-acid. For high-acid foods, such as pickled products and most fruits, you will need to increase the time the product is processed in a boiling-water canner. For low-acid foods, such as most vegetables, salsa, sauces and meats, you will need to process the product in a pressure canner, adding additional pressure to accommodate for our altitude.
Preserve the bounty of your garden and your Farmer’s Market produce with confidence by using tested recipes adapted for high altitude, prepared with quality ingredients and equipment.3