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Home Canning

 

Throughout the summer we get to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables.  This year, why not try home canning? Spend some time preserving the fruits and vegetables of summer so they can be enjoyed all year long. 

 

The home canning tradition

Home canning and preserving have a long history. Before it was possible to get all kinds of fruits and vegetables all winter at the grocery store, people preserved what they grew in their gardens and farms so that they could enjoy the summer tastes even as snow was falling outside. Nowadays, grocery stores offer so many easy and convenient choices all year that not many people take the time to think about canning their own food. Yet there are many benefits to home canning:

Family Tradition: Home canning is a chance for family and friends to get together and share their garden produce and treasured family recipes. If it’s not yet a tradition in your family, why not make it one? 

Cost savings: Home canning can be less expensive than buying fresh or frozen foods from the grocery store. If you’ve had a successful garden this year, home canning is a great way to preserve all the fruits and vegetables from your garden that you couldn’t eat or give away.

Eating local: Eating locally grown foods is better for the environment and supports Ontario farmers. Because the food has less distance to travel from the farm to your home, you are also more likely to have foods that are still at their best quality to use for your canning.

 

What is home canning?

Canning is a method of preserving food that prevents spoiling.  It uses heat and acid to help preserve food and keep it safe for us to eat.  Spoiling can result from exposure to air, microorganisms and moisture losses. Microorganisms or “germs” include bacteria, yeasts and molds. These can produce a sour smell or cause food poisoning. Proper home canning will create a tight seal on the jars to keep air and microorganisms out, and moisture and freshness locked inside.

You can preserve all types of foods. Popular choices include tomatoes, jams, jellies, sauces, fruits, chutneys, relishes, pickles, and vegetables. It is also possible to can meat, fish, poultry, milk and prepared foods like soups and stews. The canning equipment and method that you use will depend on what food you are preserving.

There are many ways to preserve foods. In addition to canning, you can freeze, dry, cure, smoke, pickle and ferment a variety of foods. Each method has benefits and safety considerations. 

 

Keeping your food safe

Home canning is very safe when done properly. However, improper home canning can increase the risk of botulism. Botulism is a foodborne illness that is caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria.  The bacteria like to grow in environments that are low in acid and oxygen, and high in moisture. Just the smallest amount of exposure to the toxin can have serious consequences.  Following proper canning technique that uses acid, high temperatures and oxygen removal is very important to prevent the growth or kill the bacteria.

 

Where is botulism most common?

  • Improperly home-canned low-acid foods such as meat, seafood, poultry, milk, fresh vegetables, and tomatoes without added acid.
  • Improperly stored low-acid fruit juice (like carrot). Keep juices refrigerated.
  • Homemade preparations of garlic, herbs and vegetables stored in oil.
  • Improperly stored baked-potatoes. Do not leave in the aluminum foil after baking. Expose to air and store in the fridge until ready to eat.  
  • Honey. Very rare but has caused botulism in infants. Do not feed honey (even pasteurised) to children under one year old. The bacteria cannot grow or make toxins in honey, but it may grow and make toxins in the baby’s body.

*Just looking at a food or smelling it may not show signs of botulism.*

Because of this, never eat food from cans that are dented, leaking or bulging on the top and bottom. 

Remember: When in doubt, throw it out!

 

Botulism is very rare. The food industry makes sure that low-acid canned food is safe by using high temperatures, salts and other preservatives that kill or prevent the growth of bacteria.  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency makes sure that proper processing and storage procedures are followed. 

When proper home canning techniques are followed, the risk of botulism is very low. The safest home canning choices to start with are high-acid foods like fruits and relishes, salsas and chutneys that need to be made with acid. 

 

More tips for safe and high quality canned food

Getting started:

  • Start with high-quality foods. Choose freshly picked fruits and vegetables that are not diseased or moldy. Cut any bruised sections out of your produce.  Avoid produce that is too ripe.
  • Keep your workspace, canning equipment utensils, lids and jars clean during all stages of the canning process.
  • Sterilize your jars. This means first washing your jars in hot soapy water and then boiling the jars according to recipe instructions. Washing with just hot water and soap will not sterilize your jars.
  • Good and safe choices for canning are glass jars with self-sealing lids.  While jars without any nicks or cracks can be reused, always use new lids.

Processing your food:

  • For the best colour and flavour, try not to expose the food to air. If the food will be sitting out for a short period of time while the jars are being sterilized, cover with a vitamin C solution (use vitamin C tablets sold in supermarkets and mix with water).
  • Fill the canning jars while they are still hot. This helps to remove air and creates a tighter seal. Fill the jars with a wide mouth funnel to avoid spilling.
  • Always wipe the mouth of the jar with a clean cloth before placing the lids on.
  • Before sealing the jars use a small spatula to help get rid of any air bubbles you notice.
  • Leave the recommended amount of “headspace” according to the recipe instructions. Headspace is the empty space between the food and the lid. This space is important to creating a tight seal and allows room for the food to expand when it is being heated.
  • Listen for a popping sound once your jars have cooled.  Check to see if the lid dips down in the middle. This will tell you that the jars have sealed properly.
  • Check the jars after 24 hours to make sure that the lids are still sealed and not leaking. Have a look at them again one week later.
  • Label and date your jars and store in a cool, dark and dry place.
  • Preserve only as much as you will eat in one year.
  • *Always read the manufacturer’s instructions for your canning equipment and follow recipes carefully. Changing ingredients and cooking times can result in unsafe food.

For more information: Home Canning 101 FAQ

 

Questions?

Home canning, as long as it is done correctly and carefully, is perfectly safe. If you’re new to home canning read as much as you can on the topic. You’ll find many books in the library and guides on the Internet that offer step by step instructions. Always read your pressure canner’s instructions manual. Contact the manufacturer for a replacement manual if you cannot find your copy. 

 

For more information:

Food Safety Facts on Botulism, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Home Canning: How to Avoid Botulism, BC HealthGuide Program

 

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Dietitians of Canada acknowledges the financial support of EatRight Ontario by the Ontario government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.