Extension News: Exposing Some Myths About Food Preservation | The Times of St. Clair

To dispel some of the myths that are circulating, especially on the Internet, of those who have canned for years or perhaps those that you have inherited from your mothers or grandmothers canning equipment and recipes, here are some myths and facts:

Myth: I put the “HOT” or “HOT, COMPLETELY COOKED” food in the jar and the lid seals, without transforming it. Since it is sealed, it must be secure.

Do: Foods prepared in this way present a serious risk to health, in particular low-acid foods (vegetables and meats). First, you don’t sterilize the free space. Second, the temperatures obtained in open kettle cans are not high enough to destroy all spoilage and food poisoning organisms that may be found in the food. Third, microorganisms can enter the food when it is transferred from the kettle to the jars and cause spoilage. Fourth, you did not force excess air from the jars, which ensures a good vacuum seal. To minimize the risk of food spoilage, all foods with a high acid content (pickles, jams and jellies, fruits, salsas and tomatoes) should be processed in a boiling or pressure pot and all foods low in acid in a pressure cooker.

Myth: Tomatoes are very acidic and do not require additional acid to be preserved safely in a pot with boiling water.

Do: Modern tomatoes are less acidic than older varieties. The acidity of tomatoes being limited, it is now necessary to take some precautions to can them safely. To ensure the safety of tomatoes, they must be acidified, whether processed in a boiling water bath or in an autoclave. To acidify the tomatoes, add a tablespoon of bottled lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid per pint of tomatoes, double this amount for liters.

Myth: Old recipes are “tested” recipes because they have been in use for years and no one has died yet.

Do: “Grandma’s” canning recipes can be dangerous to your health. Many illnesses (eg stomach viruses) and even deaths in the past can be due to food poisoning and the family may never realize it. Food poisoning can affect the very young, the very old, and those with weakened immune systems differently from strong, healthy individuals. Now that we have research-based recipes for most foods, it is wise to use these recipes to make sure that the food you can eat at home is safe.

Recipes tested must come from companies and organizations that use research to keep them safe. These include the USDA, any documentation from the State Cooperative Extension Service, and the Ball Blue Book. Make sure you get the current edition / issue, so that they have the most recent and accurate recommendations. You can always call the St. Clair County Extension Office at (205) 338-9416 or call Regional Extension Officer Angela Treadaway at (205) 410-3696 for up-to-date information and recipes.

Myth: A lot of my friends and on social media I see people using their electric pressure cookers to canning vegetables and they look really good.

Do: The USDA does not recommend using an electric pressure cooker to prepare any type of low acid food such as vegetables and meats. You can use it for canning items like jams and jellies in a double boiler. To be considered a pressure cooker, it must be large enough to hold four quart pots.

Myth: Green beans can be canned in a double boiler if I am using a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar.

Do: Adding just a few tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice will not add enough acid to make green beans or any other vegetable safe enough to be canned in a double boiler. Only pickled foods with much more vinegar, jams, jellies, fruits, relish, tomatoes with additional acidification can be safely canned in a double boiler. The temperature of the pot in a water bath cannot exceed 212 degrees, and vegetables and meats need a temperature of 240 degrees to kill bacteria such as botulism. This temperature can only be reached in an autoclave.

Myth: There is mold in the jars of food that I have canned. Can’t I just scratch it and eat the food?

Do: DO NOT eat homemade canned foods that have mold growing on them. Throw it away !!! Mold can change the acidity of foods, making them less acidic. Bacteria are more likely to thrive in low acid foods, especially the harmful Clostridium botulinum which causes botulism. If there is mold or signs of deterioration, throw away the entire contents of the jar or container, even jams and jellies.

Myth: I can use my own recipes for canning foods like salsa and soups.

Do: Not a good idea! You should only use up-to-date recipes (published in 1990 or later) that have been scientifically tested to be sure that all harmful microorganisms will be destroyed during the canning process. Microorganisms are naturally found on fresh produce. Many cause food to spoil, but some cause foodborne illness. When canning, do not change any ingredients in recipes and follow directions carefully. You can find tested recipes in trusted sources like any state extension website or the National Center for Home Food Preservation are both trusted sources as well as the USDA where you will find the Complete Guide to home canning.

Here is a great tomato salsa recipe that is a tried and trusted recipe:

Tomato sauce

20-25 pounds of peeled and chopped tomatoes; tomatoes can be purchased in a 20 to 25 pound box at the store or farmers market.

5 cups of chopped onions

3 tablespoons chopped store-bought garlic

½ cup diced fresh cilantro

½ cup canned salt

2 cups of 5% apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons of oregano

4 cups diced assorted sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange, green)

1 tablespoon of black pepper

½ cup diced jalapeño pepper (optional for hot salsa)

3 six-ounce cans of tomato paste

2 tablespoons of ground cumin (optional)

After peeling and chopping the tomatoes, place them in a large saucepan and bring to a boil while chopping the other ingredients. Combine the other ingredients except the cilantro (it will turn black if cooked too long) and bring to a boil again for about 10 minutes. Prepare the jars and lids (pint size). Pour the salsa into hot jars and mix in a double boiler for 20 minutes. Remove it from the double boiler and let it sit in a draft-free place on a towel. Label and store in a cool, dry pantry. Will keep for one year.