Educators advise community on proper food preservation

As people around the community begin canning foods, educators are offering advice on proper food preservation techniques to ensure the quality and safety of the item. For example, it is important to store canned goods in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight. (Courtesy photo)

BIG RAPIDS — As green fields now lay covered in a blanket of snow and the season to harvest crops is at an end, it is important for people canning and storing food to know how to do so safely.

Kara Lynch, food safety educator with Michigan State University Extension, said the ideal condition for storing home preserved foods is in a cool place, such as a pantry in a basement or crawl space, with 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit the optimal temperature for food safety.

She added if the contents of storage jars are exposed to direct sunlight or stored in a warm place, the food can loose quality more quickly than it normally would.

“Sunlight can break down nutrients,” she said.

While proper storage is a vital part of food preservation safety, Lynch said it is equally as important to follow the directions for canning different types of food.

To find tips and directions for storing various foods, Lynch said Michigan Fresh, through MSU Extension, is a helpful guide. This information can be found at canr.msu.edu/mi_fresh.

She added the main risk of not properly storing items is food poisoning, and botulism — an illness caused by a toxin which attacks the body’s nerves and causes difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis and sometimes death — is a serious concern.

The bacteria that makes the illness-causing toxin grows in conditions including low oxygen, low acid, low sugar, low salt, in certain temperature ranges and in certain amounts of water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Therefore, it is necessary to make sure proper canning directions are followed to ensure safe levels of these elements, Lynch said.

For example, she explained people must add acid, such as lemon juice, when canning tomatoes as they are not naturally acidic enough on their own to be safe when preserved.

According to an article by Joyce McGarry, nutrition and food safety educator with MSU Extension, before beginning to can foods, it is necessary to wash the outside of lids and jars to remove any residue that may have leaked out.

She added it is recommended to store jars without ring bands to allow for easier detection of broken vacuum seals.

Lynch explained another good idea is to label and date each jar with the name of the contents and the date it was preserved, as well as rotate the contents of the pantry so as to use the oldest foods first.

Additionally, she said people should only preserve as much food as they can use or give away within one year as after this time food will lose a significant amount of nutrients.

For people who have an abundance of food after a successful harvest, Lynch said they can give canned items to others or use the excess for composting.

“Home preserved food does make a good gift this time of year,” she said.

While correct food preservation techniques are necessary, McGarry and Lynch both explained it also is important to take care of canning equipment after using it so it remains in good working condition for the next canning season.

For safe operation of a pressure canner, she recommends cleaning the vent and safety valve by drawing a clean string or narrow strip of cloth through the opening, removing the valve and following the manufacturer’s directions.

McGarry explained the rubber gasket in the canner, which helps the edges of the canner and lid prevent steam from escaping should be cleaned or replaced if needed. Also, cleaning the equipment with hot, soapy water and then rinsing and drying it off is necessary.

She explained people must not immerse the dial gauge some pressure canners have in water when cleaning.

Lynch said people should store their canner with clean paper towels inside to help absorb moisture and odors.

Lastly, McGarry noted the lid should be placed upside down and must be left unsealed to ensure the quality and safety of the equipment.

Leave a Reply