By Jessica Nickels, columnist
Enid News & Eagle
Resurgence in home gardening has led to renewed public interest in home food preservation.
Learning and using proper food handling and safety practices for these foods, as well as purchased foods, is essential to prevent food-borne illness.
Quality counts when choosing your fruits and vegetables for canning or freezing, so it is important to always use only high-quality produce. You also should review the basic guidelines of food preservation every year.
We recommend testing the accuracy of dial gauge pressure canners annually. This can be done at the Garfield County Extension Office. You only need to bring the lid of your dial gauge canner. Testing is done to ensure low-acid foods are properly processed to prevent bacterial growth from bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum. This pathogen causes botulism, which can be deadly.
If you still have the book that came with your canner, re-read the processing procedure. Many people who have dial gauge canners forget the canner must be “vented.” This means after adding two quarts of water and the filled jars to the canner, you need to wait and allow steam to pour steadily from the vent (or petcock) for 10 minutes to force all the air from the canner. The canner must be filled with steam, not air, or the proper temperature of 240 degrees may not be reached. If your canner is more than five years old, processing times in your canner instruction book may not be correct. Request current information from our office, or you can purchase the “Ball Blue Book of Preserving” from a local store or order it online.
It is important you do not retighten screw bands when jars are removed from the canner. Check seals when jars are cool. If you do find an unsealed jar, do one of the following:
• Refrigerate the food and use within two to three days.
• Freeze the contents of the jar if found within 24 hours. Drain vegetables before freezing them.
• Reprocess the food. Remove lids, empty contents into a pan, heat to boiling, pack into a clean jar using new lids. Process again for the full processing time. The quality of twice processed foods may be poor, either soft in texture or darkened color.
• If more than 24 hours has passed since processing, throw out the food. It may not be safe.
Remove jar rings before storing; they can be used again. Be sure to store jars in a cool, dark place if possible. An outside building can be too hot in the summer and too cool in the winter for storing canned food products.
• If you have a dial gauge canner, process all vegetables at 11 pounds of pressure at altitudes between 0-2,000 feet above sea level. Garfield County is 1,128 feet.
• Processing tomato products should be done in a pressure canner at 11 pounds of pressure, or you can process in a boiling water bath canner. Times vary based on jar sizes and recipes.
• If you make salsa or tomato mixtures to can, follow a tested recipe. Do not make up your own special recipe and think you can process it in a jar. If you have developed your own “special recipe,” freeze it.
• Always read the box instructions for preparing lids and rings for canning jars. Rings can be twisted too tightly, causing a crease or pleat in the lid after processing.
• Always follow proper recommendations for making, jelly, jams and preserves. Do not double a recipe, make in small batches. Only use a recipe made for sugar substitutes.
For more information on food preservation, contact the Garfield County Extension office at (580) 237-1228 or stop by at 316 E Oxford.
Nickels, MS, RD/LD, is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Garfield County.