Canning Safety 101

While canning your home-grown produce is a great way to enjoy the bounty of your garden year round, it is important to know how to do so in a safe manner. If canning is done improperly, there is a risk of contracting botulism poisoning from the finished product.

Botulism poisoning is a serious disease caused by a germ found in soil, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you can your food improperly, the CDC warns, the toxin that causes botulism can grow in your canned food, and can make you sick when you eat it.

Canning safety can be broken up into two parts: pre-canning precautions and post-canning precautions. 

Before You Can

To help avoid allowing the toxin that causes botulism to grow in your canned food, it is important to use the appropriate canning equipment and techniques while also following up-to-date instructions. The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers some tips to help dodge the risk of getting sick from canning:

  • Food Choice: It is essential to make sure you start with fruits and vegetables that are fresh and thoroughly washed. Some foods may need to be peeled in order to help remove bacteria before canning.
  • Sterilization: Prior to canning, it is vital to adequately clean all of your materials. A tip to effective sterilization for your jars and lids is to soak them in 1 cup of vinegar per gallon of water for several hours, the NCHFP says.
  • Using Suitable Supplies: The NCHFP recommends to can your produce using a pressure canner or boiling water canner; otherwise your risk of your foods spoiling increases.  Using these canners allows for higher temperature to kill bacteria. You should also make sure that the time the jars are submerged in the canners is correct. Accurate submersion time should be found in the canning recipe.
  • Consider Food Acidity: The way in which you go about canning your fruits and vegetables — boiling water canner or pressure canner — depends on the food’s acidity. Higher-acidity and lower-acidity foods require different canning techniques. Low-acidity foods are not acidic enough to kill the bacteria, while high-acidity foods may help block bacteria growth in some cases. The NCFHFP provides a chart to help you determine different foods’ acidity.
  • Altitude: Modifications to your canning procedure may be necessary due to your altitude, which is something some people might not remember to take into account. The NCHFP gives another chart to help you adjust the canning process based on altitude.

After You Can

Safety checks should be performed when you go to open a jar of your canned product later down the line, advises the CDC. Before enjoying the fruits of your labors, you should do an initial critique. Your food might be contaminated if it has any of these characteristics, according to the CDC. 

  • The jar is dripping or bulging.
  • The food is moldy, discolored, or smells foul.
  • The jar is damaged or cracked.
  • Liquid or foam spurts from the jar when it’s opened.

The CDC says if you suspect the food might be contaminated, throw it away and use bleach to clean any areas where it may have spilled. Never take the risk and test food if you are uncertain of its condition, and if the jar or can looks damaged or is bulging, throw it away without opening it, the CDC says.

After taking the safety components into consideration, you are ready to start canning. Visit Canning 101 for more information about how to savor your garden in a new way.