Learning to preserve food through canning is a great step towards self-sufficiency. By canning your own food supply, you can prepare a stockpile of survival food for your pantry, develop your cooking skills, and use all of your harvested produce.
Canning is a great way to store healthy, homegrown food; here is a quick list of the benefits of home canning:
- A simple, time-tested concept that has a wealth of how-to and recipe resources available
- Less expensive than purchasing factory canned goods
- Better for long-term storage than aluminum as glass decreases the risk of leaching chemicals
- You can incorporate your own recipes, ingredients, and food to ensure your family will enjoy the meals and that there are no harmful additives – only the wholesome, organic ingredients you have selected
- Preserves surplus from home garden harvests to reduce waste
- Saves freezer space and is actually superior to freezing in that food will not spoil if the power goes out
As with any food-related project, the key to success with canning lies in following the proper canning safety guidelines. By following the proper canning safety guidelines to keep your canned food safe, you will ensure that your hard work is not wasted and that your healthy, homemade food supply keeps for as long as possible.
In this article, we will cover the ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ of safe canning practices so that you can rest assured your canned food is safe for your family and can all enjoy the many benefits of home canning.
Why Canning Safety Is A Top Concern
Whether canning for survival or recreation, canning safety guidelines should be your top priority. If bacteria, even in small amounts, is present in canned goods, it can result in foodborne botulism, which is caused by consuming the toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. The repercussions of foodborne botulism can be quite nasty with worst-case untreated cases resulting in paralysis of the arms, legs, torso, and even respiratory muscles.
Early symptoms include blurred vision, slurred speech, dry mouth, and muscle weakness; however, symptoms may take hours to appear, with most appearing 18-36 hours after consumption. By the time you realize canned goods are contaminated, your whole family may have already consumed the toxic food.
While the spores of Clostridium botulinum bacteria are present on many foods, they remain dormant and harmless unless the right conditions exist – conditions that are precisely those present in canned goods – with the bacteria thriving in areas with moisture, low acidity, less than 2% oxygen, and a temperature between 40-120℉. This is why it is essential that you follow proper canning safety guidelines when canning for survival or recreation.
For more information on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of botulism, please read this article from the CDC.
Quick Canning Safety Guidelines Reference
Canning Safety Guidelines – Make Sure Your Food L.A.S.T.S.
To ensure your canned goods are safe, you’ll want to address the following areas: Lids, altitude, size, time, and storage.
A tightly sealed lid is a must for canning safety; in order to preserve freshness, food must remain vacuum sealed. To ensure a vacuum seal, process your filled jars in a hot water bath or pressure cooker/canner and then allow them to cool. Once the jars have cooled to room temperature, check the seal and examine the jars for any leakage.
Before canning, carefully inspect the rims of the jars you will be using for any chips or imperfections. Defective jars should not be used; however, they don’t have to go to waste – they can be repurposed as a vase for fresh herbs or as an LED lantern.
Jar lids that come pre-treated with paraffin are for one-time use only; do not reuse the disks after they have already been heated. The heating process used in canning deforms the paraffin to create a seal, and once deformed, it will never be effective at sealing again. However, the metal rings or bands can most definitely be reused as long as you purchase extra paraffin-coated disks.
There are reusable lid kits available that consist of rubber or silicon gaskets to create a seal. Given proper care, they can be used many times; however, ensure they are BPA-free.
|Canning Jar Lids||Key Features|
|Ball Regular Canning or Mason Jar Lids, 8 dozen||• Single use lids work with standard mason jars and rings
• Value pack includes 96 BPA-free lids
|Tattler Reusable Regular Size Canning Lids||• Gasket rings and lids are dishwasher safe and reusable
• BPA-free material also resists acid corrosion
|Tulid Wide Mouth Mason Jar Lids (Pack of 3)||• Reusable lids fit wide-mouth Ball and Kerr mason jars
• BPA-free and dishwasher safe with writable surface for labeling
The altitude at which you are boiling your canned foods is important as altitude affects boiling time and temperature. At high altitudes, boiling temperature is lower and therefore more time is needed during the boiling phase as water will not exceed its boiling temperature no matter how high the burner is set; starting at 2,000 feet above sea level, adjustments will need to be made. For more information, please read this article from the United States Department of Agriculture.
When choosing jars for canning, look for jars that are tall, thin, and hold a smaller volume. As it is extremely important that all of the contents in the jar reach the desired temperature, taller, thinner and less voluminous jars will ensure uniform heating. If your jars are too wide, the outer contents will overcook or the inner contents will not get properly sterilized, resulting in a loss of food and effort.
Using smaller jars also helps reduce waste when you are ready to consume your canned goods as you can adjust portions. Once a can is opened, it will need to be consumed and any leftovers will need to be refrigerated. If the power goes out, throw away any leftovers. Well portioned jars will help avoid excessive leftovers and reduce waste.
|Ball Canning Regular Mouth Half Pint Canning Jar 8 oz. 12-Count||Ball Regular Mouth Quart Jars with Lids and Bands, Set of 12
|Kerr 1 Pint Canning Jar Regular Mouth 12-Count||Jarden Wide Mouth Ball Jar, 32-Ounce, Case of 12
The time involved in processing while canning will depend on the type of food you are canning as processing time is a function of the acidity of the food. Highly acidic foods (those with a pH of less than 4.6) will require a shorter processing period (anywhere from 5-85 minutes depending on the type of food) as they naturally inhibit bacteria.
Conversely, low acid foods (those with a pH of more than 4.6) will require a longer processing time that can range from 7-11 hours and must be at a temperature of 240-250℉.
Always make sure that you carefully follow the instructions for your pressure cooker to ensure you have the correct time and pressure settings for your recipe, and make sure to set a timer to keep track of cooking times.
|Pressure Canners||Key Features||Capacity|
|Presto Pressure Canner and Cooker||• Extra large capacity fits bigger jars and batches|
• Full range pressure meter allows for precise readings, especially helpful at high altitudes
• Heavy-gauge aluminum heats evenly and resists warping
|All American Pressure Cooker/Canner||• Processes 19 pint jars or 7 quart jars at once|
• Metal to metal sealing system using tightening screws with no gaskets to replace
• Processes at 5, 10, and 15 PSI with an automatic overpressure release
|Granite Ware Pressure Canner and Cooker/Steamer||• Smaller size great for homes with limited storage space|
• Durable hard anondized aluminum construction
• Secondary backup safety valve sounds whistle alarm while releasing excess pressure
When it comes to storage, you’ll want to consider two factors: Storage conditions and shelf life.
After following proper canning safety guidelines while preparing your food, ensure the temperature of wherever you are storing your stockpile of canned foods is kept at a steady temperature, somewhere between 50-70℉. Avoid storing your canned food in areas that border heating vents, electronics, or any other devices that emit heat, as higher temperatures can affect the integrity of the seal, causing food to spoil.
You will also want to store your canned food in an area with low humidity and dark lighting. Low humidity is best for maintaining the metal lids as it prevents them from rusting and darkness is preferable as sunlight should be avoided completely – UV rays will degrade nutrients and can cause spoiling.
Another consideration is the integrity of your storage shelving. It would be a shame to go through all the proper canning safety guidelines and properly preserve your food only to lose it due to faulty shelving or stacking. Always make sure that the shelf you are using is secure and that the weight of the cans is equally distributed. Rather than piling unsteady stacks, opt for single-layer storage and additional shelves to avoid the risk of your cans toppling over. For more ideas on storing your food preps, CLICK HERE.
Generally, home-canned foods have a shelf life of one year. High-acid foods, such as tomatoes or vinegar, can typically last for 12-18 months while low-acid foods can last anywhere from 2-5 years (but this is typically for store bought versions).
When deciding whether or not food is safe to eat, always err on the side of caution. Look for things such as mold, discoloration, leakage, bulging lids, and putrid smells as an indication that the food has spoiled and should be discarded. If you find even one jar that has spoiled, make sure to check all the others from the same batch in case there was a problem with the canning process. When in doubt, throw it out – never taste food to determine whether or not it is safe to eat.
To keep yourself organized, make sure you mark each lid with the canning date and organize your shelves so that the oldest canned food sits at the front and the newest at the back.
While it may be tempting to stockpile as much canned food as possible, a better strategy is to stockpile 1-2 months worth of food and then rotate out the older jars as you add new ones. By following this process, your family will become accustomed to eating the canned foods, but more importantly, you will prevent waste and ensure your supply stays fresh. If you want to build a supply that will last beyond several months, add more new cans than what you will consume.
Additional Canning Safety Tips
When choosing food to can, always start with high quality, fresh ingredients. Ensure all foods to be canned are thoroughly washed and any seeds and stems are removed. For most recipes, you will be instructed to peel certain ingredients such as carrots, potatoes, and fruits.
Always ensure you allow enough time for yourself to complete the canning process from start to finish. The less time your prepared foods spend exposed to air, the better. When filling your jars, make sure to fill them individually and close the lid before moving on to the next jar as this will minimize air exposure.
Air Bubbles and Heating
Get rid of any air bubbles by tapping the jar to move all air bubbles to the top – you do not want to trap air in the contents as this will rot the food. Before heating, make sure to leave about 1” of headspace at the top of the jar to allow for expansion during the heating process. Always keep a clean rag on hand to wipe the rim and threads of the jars so that no food can become trapped in the lid.
Cooking Your Canned Foods
As an extra precaution, never consume your canned foods directly from the can. Boil your food for at least 10 minutes before consuming in order to kill any bacteria and destroy any toxins that may be present.
Helpful Canning Accessories
|Canning Accessories||Key Features|
|Bellemain 6 Piece Canning Tool Set||• Stainless steel tools have vinyl coating for improved grip
• Jar lifter allows you to safely remove jars from hot water
• Includes wrench for easily opening canned food lids
|Presto 09995 7 Function Canning Kit||• Funnel fits in both regular and wide mouth jars
• Lid lifter is magnetized for removing lids from hot water
• Includes timer for keeping track of cook time
|Norpro Small Canning Rack||• Keeps jars off of the direct heat and allows water to circulate for even cooking
• Vinyl grip handles fold flat for easy storage
• Holds 2 quart jars or 4 pint/halfpint jars
• Fits most pressure canners (8.25 inch diameter)
|JarBox Canning Jar, Pint, Semi-Clear||• Stores and protects canned food
• Easily organize jars by contents, or plan a few day's meals
• Stackable and transportable for moving or sharing
|Ball Jar Sure Tight Band Tool||• Be sure lids are tightened properly with less strain on wrists
• Also serves to unscrew rings, with integrated lid lifter for opening jars
|Mirro 9605000B Stainless Steel Canning Accessories Food Press with Wooden Pestle Cookware, Silver||• Mash and strain fruits and vegetables, remove skins
• Stainless steel press seats in rack for convenience
• Pestle is shaped to fit for effectiveness
There are myriad benefits to canning your own food, including the ability to enjoy fresh, healthy foods year round and moving yourself closer to self-sufficiency. Canning is a tried and tested process that reduces waste and costs less than store-bought canned goods. However, the importance of practising canning safety guidelines while preparing your canned foods cannot be understated. Safety is of utmost importance, but when canning safety guidelines are followed, you will be rewarded with healthy, delicious meals that you and your family can enjoy year round.
If you haven’t canned your own food before, why not give it a try? Now that you know how to can your own food safely, it is the perfect time to give it a go and see if canning will work for your family as a means to develop a more self-sufficient household.
Do you plan on making canning part of your prepping plan? Are there any aspects of the canning process that intimidate you? Have you had an experience canning food on your own? We look forward to hearing from you in the Comments section below, thanks!