How do you like your vegetables? If you are among the 1 in 5 households in the United States who can their own food, then chances are you like homegrown vegetables fresh from your own canning jar. You are part of a growing segment of Americans who are returning to the "farm your own food" way of life to cut food costs and eat healthfully.
Part of the "farm your own food" philosophy is preserving what you grow. Food that is properly canned and kept in a cool, dry environment will last for at least one year. Home canning is affordable and trendy, but can be deadly if proper safety precautions are not taken during the canning process.
From 1996 to 2008, 38 percent of foodborne botulism outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were from home-canned vegetables. Botulism is a rare, but serious illness caused by a germ called Clostridium botulinum, which is found in soil. The germ can multiply and produce toxins in improperly canned food. Heed the following advice to safely can your low-acid vegetables (like green beans and corn) or meat, fish and poultry, which are prone to this devastating germ.
Home Canning the Safe Way
- Follow USDA-approved modern canning methods. You might be using the same canning methods passed down from family generations or from an outdated cookbook. Canning methods and equipment have improved over time. Follow current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Complete Guide to Home Canning or your state County Extension Service.
- Use a pressure canner. High-acid foods like fruits and tomatoes can be canned using boiling water; however, low-acid vegetables and meats are at risk for botulism and require the use of a pressure canner. Correctly, pressure canning is the only method to kill the germ that causes botulism. Heat is the key element that destroys botulism spores. In a pressure canner, jars of food are submerged in water heated to at least 240 degrees F, high enough to destroy the botulism germ. This temperature can only be achieved in a pressure canner.
Pick the Right Pressure Canner
- Select a pressure canner big enough to hold at least four quart jars, which is a requirement for following USDA canning procedures.
- Utilize canners that have the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) approval to confirm their safety.
- Safeguard your canning process by making sure the canner is in good working condition.
- Check all openings for cleanliness.
- Examine the rubber gasket provided with some brands of pressure canners. The gasket should be flexible and soft, not brittle, sticky or cracked.
- Understand altitude adjustments during processing; printed procedures should be with the manufacturer's instructions.
Step-by-step procedures for proper use of pressure canners are described in Preserving Food: Using Pressure Canners.