Previously Published in Ohio’s Country Journal
While it’s a wonderful, cherished tradition in many families to preserve food based on recipes that were developed and honed over the years in grandma’s, great-grandma’s and great-great-grandma’s kitchens, recipes should be reviewed, and if they don’t match recipes that have been tested and researched by food safety experts, they shouldn’t be used.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a valuable source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation, says Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension educator and registered dietitian.
The center was established with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (now called the National Institute of Food and Agriculture) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods, she said.
Precisely following the proper steps and recipes when home canning is important to help prevent botulism, a rare but potentially deadly illness produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, she said.
These bacteria are found in soil and can survive, grow and produce a toxin in certain conditions, such as when food is improperly canned, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The toxin can affect your nerves, paralyze you and even cause death.
“Canning season can be from late May, when your spring vegetables and fruits come in, through fall and into the colder months, when people want to can meat and soups,” Shumaker said.
While canning is not really a complicated process, you do have to follow researched and tested recipes, she said.
“Home canning is a science, but it’s not the time to experiment — you can’t make up your own recipes,” Shumaker said. “A lot of things can affect the safety of your final product.
“It’s important not to alter the acid (pH) level of the food in the jar, the size of the pieces of food, the canning method or the processing time. Each of these items plays a role in the amount of time and heat it will take for the core (center) of the jar to reach a safe temperature to keep the food safe to eat and not make someone sick.”
Additionally, OSU’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences experts offer hands-on classes on food preservation and canning in several locations around Ohio and have produced several YouTube videos on the subject. They also offer recipes and other resources for food preservation and canning at go.osu.edu/food-preservation and on Ohioline.