By Sandy Stoneman, area food safety agent
Canning season has arrived in Southwest Virginia.
Gardens are growing and farmers markets are open. We all enjoy the fresh, local produce while it is in season but that season is short. No one wants to think about those cold, dark days of winter, but imagine how wonderful and satisfying it would be to open a jar of green beans or bright yellow peaches that you canned yourself that take you back to those warm, sunny days picking ripe produce from your garden or farmers market.
Canning may seem a bit intimidating for the first-timer. Headline news stories tell of botulism outbreaks due to improper home canning and horror stories of pressure canners exploding. However, if you are using up to date, tested recipes and the proper equipment, canning is a safe and rewarding way to preserve the fresh, local foods you would like to have all year long.
Here are a few tips:
1) Follow up-to-date canning instructions: Make sure your food preservation information is always current with scientifically tested guidelines. Don’t use outdated publications, unverified recipes from the Internet, or old cookbooks, even if they were handed down to you from trusted family cooks.
Canning instructions and equipment have changed over the years. Following up-to-date canning instructions from a reliable source such as USDA, The National Center for Home Food
Preservation, or your local Extension Office is essential for food safety and the prevention of botulism. Botulism is a rare, but serious illness caused by a germ called Clostridium botulinum. This germ is found in soil and can survive, grow and produce toxin in a sealed jar of food. This toxin can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and even cause death.
2) Have the Proper Canner for the Food You Want to Preserve: Always use a properly sized pressure canner that meets USDA recommendations for pressure canning when canning low-acid vegetables (like green beans, potatoes and corn), meat, seafood and poultry. Pressure canning is the only recommended method for canning low-acid foods. Do not use boiling water canners for low-acid foods because they will not protect against botulism poisoning. It is also recommended that you have your canner lid inspected and your pressure gage tested annually. Contact your local Extension Office to get this done. Water-bath canners are safe for high acid foods such as apples, peaches, berries, acidified tomatoes and pickles.
3) Don’t always rely on look, smell or taste: If there is any doubt that approved home-canning methods were followed, throw the food out. Also, inspect canned food and discard if the container lid is leaking or bulging, the jar is cracked, or the food is moldy.
4) Attend an online or in-person canning class: In a normal canning season multiple hands-on canning classes are held through your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Office. However, with the changes due to COVID-19, that is not currently an option. We hope that will change in the near future but until then consider the newly released Virginia Cooperative Extension Home Food Preservation Online Course. This course is only $15.00, is self-paced and includes training on the science behind food preservation and instruction on canning, freezing, dehydration and fermentation. Visit tinyurl.com/vcefoodpreservation to register.
If you have specific canning questions or would like more information about our online course, contact Jeannie Dudding, the Giles ANR Agent at (540) 921-3455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.