Try as we might, it's almost impossible to eat our way through the abundance of summer fruit that we're enjoying during the month of August. No matter how many peach pies we make, or blueberry cobblers we enjoy for dessert, there is more of that fruit goodness to be enjoyed. This is where canning comes into play.
Rather than try to stuff our faces, we can preserve this summer produce in jams and jellies to be enjoyed all year round. And while the process is easy, there are some important steps to take in order to properly and safely can your foods. One of the major risks of improperly canned food is botulism, a deadly food-borne bacteria. So click through the slideshow below and see what you cannot forget to do when making your preserves.
Don't Forget To Sterilize The Lids
The screw bands of jars don't need to be sterilized in boiling water (since they never come into direct contact with food), but the lids do. It doesn't hurt to throw the screw bands in with the lids, which have to be sterilized, just to play it safe. You can reuse the screw bands for future cannings, but the lids can only be used once. This is because the gasket, which seals around the lid of the jar during canning, changes its shape during processing and cannot reseal another jar.
Don't Forget To Sterilize The Jars
To make sure that the jars are properly sterilized, wash them with soap and warm water. Make sure that they are free of nicks or scratches as these are breeding grounds for bacteria. Depending on what you are processing you may need to sterilize them further. Place the jars in a pot of boiling water -- right side up -- for 10 minutes (though depending on your elevation you may need more time).
Don't Forget To Consider The Acidity
It's important to consider the acidity of the food you are canning. Canned foods with inadequate levels of acidity (pH levels) are breeding grounds for the production of botulism -- more specifically, its vegetative cells which is what makes people sick. Many fruits have a naturally high level of acidity. And when pickling vegetables, acidity is added through vinegar. But in the case where there the pH levels aren't high enough you can add lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar.
Don't Forget The Funnel
While a funnel is not necessary for safe canning, if you don't have a steady hand it can make the process much simpler. When adding the food to be canned to the sterilized jars you want to keep the rims of the jars clean. If the rims have food stuck on them it can compromise the seal of the jar.
Don't Forget The Headspace
Headspace is the empty space between the top of the food and the lid. It is important because it gives food space to expand during processing. Headspace also plays a part in getting the proper vacuum seal. Without headspace, your jars might not seal properly. There should be about 1/2-1/4 inch of headspace depending on what you are processing.
Don't Forget The Hot Water Bath
The water bath is the last step of properly canning food. Allow a pot of water to come to a rolling boiling. Keep another pot of boiling water nearby in case you need to add more to the pot. Place the jars in the pot of boiling water, with space around them for the water to circulate. Maintain a level of 1-2 inches of water to top the jars. Process the jars the appropriate amount of time <a href="http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/348/348-594/348-594.html" target="_hplink">according to this chart</a>.
Don't Forget The Lid Test
How to know if your <a href="http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/general/cooling_jars_test_seals.html" target="_hplink">jar is properly sealed</a> is by the lid. You can test it one of three ways to check for a seal: -Press the center of the lid with your finger. If it springs back, it is not properly sealed. -Tap the lid with the bottom of a spoon. If it makes a dull sound, it is not properly sealed. If it makes a ringing sound, it's correctly sealed. -Hold the jar at eye level. If the lid is concave, it's properly sealed. If the lid is flat or bulging, it is not. If your jar is not properly sealed, you need to reprocess it. Or you can store it in the fridge, but the contents will only be safe for consumption over the next couple of days.
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