Canning, Food Storage, and Safety
You’ve successfully canned your vegetables and fruits. You’ve made two kinds of jam, three varieties of jelly, applesauce, and even canned homemade marinara sauce from all those bushels of tomatoes that grew in your garden.
Now, what are you going to do with all those jars? And, for that matter, is all that food now preserved for eternity, or are there limits to how long you can store even canned food?
What are the safety concerns with canned food?
Smart of you to ask, because it does matter. Here are some guidelines from RecipeTips.com, plus a few other food storage options in addition to canning.
The canning seal of approval?
First of all, what about your jars? Did you check to make sure you have a good seal? There are three simple ways to check your seal (after the jars have cooled 12-24 hours):
Press to play: After removing the bands, take your thumb and press down in the center of the lid. If it moves up or down, it’s not sealed properly.
Get lifted: Again, with the bands off, lift each jar by the lid. If it loosens, bad seal. If it holds, good seal. (Hint: Place your other hand under the jar—just in case your seal is not a good one.)
Eyeball it: Bring your jar up to eye-level (or squat down to jar-level) and inspect your lid. If it curves down slightly in the center, you got it right.
What if you have a bad seal or two? Do you have to trash the contents? Not at all. Again, you have a couple options. You can reprocess them and go for a proper seal or you can refrigerate improperly sealed jars and use them within 2-3 days.
If you want to try reprocessing, be sure to check the rim of your jar for nicks. If you find a nick, pour the contents into a good jar and prepare a new lid. Then reprocess, following all the standard steps.
Dry, cool, and dark
Store your canned goods in a cool, dry, and dark place. My grandmother always stored hers in the basement in a closet under the stairs. She then hung a pretty red-checked gingham curtain to close off the area.
The curtain is optional, but if your basement is damp the lids may start to rust and affect the seal. Plus, if your cans are exposed to a lot of light or warm temperatures, it can affect the color and flavor. Store at temperatures between 50°F and 70°F. If stored under the proper conditions, canned food should be able to be stored for about a year before the quality is affected.
Don’t spoil the party
Even if processed and sealed properly, it is possible for canned foods to spoil while in storage. If that happens, dispose of the food properly. To catch spoilage always check each jar before using the contents.
But how do you know if your peaches or beans or applesauce has gone bad? Well, there are a couple things to look for, but the No. 1 thing you do not want to do is taste the food to check. Why? Because spoiled canned food causes botulism and that can be deadly.
Here is a list of what to look for from RecipeTips.com:
- Check the jar’s seal. If the center of the lid is concave, the seal is still good.
- Look for leakage or streaks of food that have dried on the jar that are coming from the top.
- Rising air bubbles indicate an improper seal.
- Check the color. If the content is very dark, that is an indication of spoilage.
- If the contents are slimy, shriveled, or have a cloudy appearance, they’re spoiled.
- When you open the jar, if the contents spurt out, discard it.
- After opening, look for signs of mold (could be white, blue, green, or black). Be sure to check the bottom side of the lid for signs of mold as well as the contents.
- If the content has an unnatural odor, discard it.
- Do not taste the food to determine if it is spoiled.
Spoilage in low-acid foods and tomatoes is not always evident or may appear differently. If you have any suspicions, better to discard the food then take a chance.
As we bring our series of canning blogs to an end, here are a few tips for you to think about as you start canning.
- For the best color and flavor use quality mature food that is free of blemishes and is not diseased.
- While preparing to can, soak foods such as apples, apricots, peaches, pears, and nectarines in water that has some lemon juice added to reduce browning.
- Only can the quantity that you will use within a year.
- Don’t use commercial jars (such as mayonnaise jars) for canning. They are not strong enough and can crack or break during processing.
- Wash the jars in the dishwasher before canning to sterilize them.
- If, like us, you live at a higher altitude, increase processing accordingly. Check online search engines for details for your area.
All you need to freeze food is, of course, a freezer—but also freezer-ready containers. While it’s easier than canning, food in the freezer is still susceptible to problems, including freezer burn. And, like canning, it’s not intended to be an eternal storage method.
However, with a vacuum sealer, you can easily fill your freezer with meats, vegetables, fruits—all manner of edibles.
Vacuum sealers use plastic bags for storage. They protect food against freezer burn by suctioning all of the air out of the bag and creating a tight-fitting seal.
Breezy meal prep: You can freeze an entire meal (or make your own frozen lunches) and then boil or microwave your food right in the bag.
Saves money: Buy your food in bulk and prevent spoilage of perishables and items with limited shelf-life.
Extend food freshness: Vacuum-sealing works in the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry longer than conventional freezer wrap, container, or zip-style bags.
Safe: Thick durable sealer bags are dishwasher-safe, boil-safe, microwave-safe, reusable, and BPA-free.
Canning your own fruits and vegetables—and more—is healthier and saves you money. Check out our other blogs on the subject here at CHEFS Mix:
- Outfit Yourself for Canning Succes
- Canning 101
- Preseving Today’s Fruits for Tomorrow’s Use
- Enjoy Your Vegetable Harvest Year-Round
- Canning, Food Storage, and Safety
Your turn: If this is your first experience at canning, what will you can first?