Home canning is a wonderful way to preserve foods from your garden and the local farmer's market. Many think that canning food is complicated to learn, but it's really a simple procedure once you understand the basics. One very important aspect of preserving foods using this method is safety.
If you've ever wandered into an old musty basement and come across some canning jars filled with food that granny forgot about, you might have seen some pretty horrific examples of food spoilage. This canned food is dangerous and should be destroyed.
All spoiled foods aren't that easy to identify. Always inspect canned goods before consuming: check the label date, the jar itself, and make certain the seal is not broken.
Some folks will tell you that canned goods can be safely stored for a number of years. The food might, or might not, be safe. Studies have shown that a good safe rule to follow is to discard any foods you have not consumed within a year of the canning date. You can keep the jars and sterilize for re-use.
Today there are only two safe recommended methods for home canning: pressure canning and boiling-water bath. The water bath method is used to process high acid foods. The pressure canning method is used to process low acid foods.
When canning food, do not reuse the metal canning lids. It is fine to reuse the rings or bands; these don't form the seal anyway. The band is simply used to hold the lid in place until it "pops" and seals during the cooling process. After that, the band serves no purpose and can be removed. Flat metal lids are readily available and very inexpensive, so there is no excuse for taking chances with used metal seals.
The "popping" noise occurs during cooling and is an indication that the jar is properly processed and sealed. When you process foods in your high pressure canner, the food contents are heated and air is forced out of the container. As the jar cools down, the metal seal is literally sucked down and the jar is sealed; nothing can get in or out, until you open the jar, of course.
Store canned goods in a cool dry place. High storage temperatures can damage jar seals; freezing temperatures are not recommended either. Storage areas should be well below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Always inspect canning jars prior to use. Do not use jars with cracks or chips.
Do not cut corners on recommended processing times or specific pressures for home canning. Don't assume that just because your jar "pops" and seals that the food inside is safe. The contents of the jar are supposed to be heated at the proper temperature, for the specified amount of time, and following a recommended method. It is important that the food heats and remains heated for that amount of time in order to kill microorganisms and bacteria. Use a good quality canner that seals properly.
Follow directions and don't skip steps. Just because your canning jars look clean does not mean they are. Always sterilize jars according to directions. Just remember there is no point at all in wasting your time canning foods if you are not going to do it right. By skipping steps and not following directions, you could cause harm to you or others.
Inspect foods prior to consumption. Be suspicious of cloudy liquids, unusual odors, slime, and mold. Note that some food discoloration is natural and does not necessarily mean your food has spoiled. Cauliflower, garlic, and pears commonly change color when processed. Check the underside of the metal lid before consuming the canned food. Is it rusty or discolored? Is the jar rim contaminated or black? If so, do not eat the food in the jar. Use basic common sense when inspecting foods.
Do not be afraid to can foods at home. It is a very simple process and a wonderful way to enjoy your garden harvest throughout the winter. Just follow proper canning procedures, and you'll be a safe home canning expert in no time.
Laura Brown is an experienced ghostwriter and professional freelance author. She also enjoys gardening and cooking. You can find some delicious recipes and gardening tips on her website, http://www.theranchersdaughter.com along with a lot of useful information on gardening, cooking, flowers, and living in the country. Learn more about preserving foods at Laura's website.