Canning can be the backbone of your food storage plans and is a very safe method for preserving food if you follow tested and safe canning directions. Please do not take any shortcuts. For the latest information on canning, please consult reliable, up-to-date sources, such as the USDA.
What do I need to start canning?
There are only two things that are essential for canning: jars (with 2-part lids) and a large canning pot with a rack. That’s pretty much it. There are lot of other things you may want to get that will make the job quicker and easier. If you shop thrift stores, garage sales or auctions you can usually find most, if not all of these, for very little money.
The other equipment you will want (in order of importance or how often you will use it) include:
Canning Funnel — A wide funnel that fits into the mouth of the jars.
Timer — I like a multi-timer for when I have more than one pot of something that needs to be timed.
Jar lifter(s) — I like having two, one for each hand.
Magnetic Wand — for lifting lids out of hot water.
There are also several time-saving food-prep tools that you may want to get. I discuss those here.
Should I use wide-mouth or regular jars?
This is really a matter of taste. With some foods I find it a bit harder to maintain head space with a wide mouth jar (the food wants to float to the top and a narrow mouth can keep the food in place better.) Wide-mouth jars are easier to clean because you can put your hand completely inside the jar to scrub. But the wide-mouth jars and corresponding lids are a bit more expensive. I personally use wide mouth for large foods (like peach halves and whole pickles), sauces and meats and I use regular mouth jars for pretty much everything else.
What size jars should I use?
This depends on your family size and eating habits. When our family was five, I used quart jars for most things. I use pint jars for most vegetables (except for tomatoes) and some meat. Now that there are four eating at home, I now can more of my meat in pint jars. Jams/jellies, relish and salsa are also in pint jars. For jellies, relishes and pickles (especially pickled peppers) that I plan to give as gifts, I use 1/2 pint jars. I use ½ cup jars for canning diced hot peppers. Half-gallon jars are harder to find and are not recommended for most canning, but they are perfect for apple and grape juice.
What should I can?
There is almost no end to the foods you can preserve by canning. Starting from easiest to more difficult, the list includes:
- Pickles and Relishes
- Fruit, fruit juice
- Tomatoes, including salsa
- Jams and Jellies
- Pie filling
- Green beans*
- Other vegetables*
- Ketchup and Spaghetti sauce*
- Meat broths*
- Soups, including beans and chili*
- Meat, including fish and game*
Please note that those items marked with an asterisk (*) are low-acid foods and must be pressure canned. While the process for pressure canning is a
little bit different from water bath canning, it is not at all difficult. Pressure canning allows you to safely can almost any food, including ready-to-eat soups and casseroles.
Are there any foods I shouldn’t can?
There ARE some things that you should never can. Canning affects either the quality (taste, color or texture) or safety of these foods and makes them undesirable candidates for canning:
- leafy vegetables
- pureed squash
- hot dogs
- liver or giblets
- pasta or rice
- fats, including butter
Can I use a steam canner?
Until recently, steam canners were not considered safe. There was not enough testing to prove that the steam was creating a uniform heat throughout the chamber, thus guaranteeing that the food is evenly and thoroughly heated to ensure safe processing. After a lot of rigorous testing, the USDA now says that they are safe provided you follow these safety guidelines.
Can I use an electric pressure canner for low-acid foods?
No. I know that the manufacturer says you can. But electric pressure cookers have not been tested to ensure that jars inside reach the correct temperature.
I just put the lids on my jam and jelly and turn them upside down until they seal. Is this safe?
Can I process vegetables in a water bath if I boil it for two hours?
No. Maybe your grandma told you this was fine. It’s not.
Can I can foods in the oven?
All of these methods will seal the jars, but that does not mean you have a safe seal. The deadly botulinum toxin thrives in anaerobic (airless) environment. To ensure your canned food does not harbor botulism you MUST heat the food thoroughly. That is why you should follow tested USDA guidelines. No shortcuts. Period.
Can I use Grandma’s salsa recipe?
No. The acidity of foods, especially tomatoes and vinegar, have changed over the years so what was safe 20-30 years ago may not be safe today. When it comes to water-bath canning, use only current USDA tested recipes.
But we’ve done it this way for years and have never had any problems.
<sigh> OK. Do what you want, but don’t ask me to tell you it’s safe. It’s not. And don’t be offended if I don’t come over for dinner because you are playing Russian roulette with your family’s and guest’s lives.
But there’s YouTube video
Yes, there are hundreds of YouTube videos showing you how to take shortcuts. Check each video against what NCHFP says. Because if the video is telling you that you can
- pressure can with an electric pressure cooker
- can bread
- can butter or other dairy
- dry can any vegetable (process without adding any liquid to the jar)
- just turn hot jars over
- can in the oven
- can rice or noodles
- use any any other process not listed at NCHFP
the video was made by an ignorant or reckless canner. If you follow YouTube advice without double checking with NCHFP, you are risking your family’s health and safety. You better have good home owner’s insurance if you invite anyone over to eat your improperly canned food.
How long does canned food last?
Time, light and temperature have the biggest effect on food quality. All food begins to lose flavor, color and nutrition the moment it is picked. Canning, freezing and drying slow the deterioration. The USDA says that canned food should be eaten in one year. That is the optimum time for taste and nutrition. But as long as the seal is still secure, canned food is safe to eat. Taste and nutrition will diminish over time but it will always be safe. Temperatures over 70° and light will accelerate the deterioration, so store all preserved food in a cool, dry, dark room. Canned foods should never be stored where they will reach temperatures over 95°.
Can I buy used jars?
YES! You can save a lot of money if you buy your jars at thrift stores or rummage sales. Unless they are cracked or chipped, jars can be used indefinitely. You should inspect all jars before each use for cracks or chips. Run your finger along to the rim of the mouth of the jar to feel for any hard-to-see chips.
Can I re-use the lids?
Canning lids come in two parts: the lid and the ring. The ring can be used indefinitely but the metal lid is designed for one use only and should be discarded once you open the jar.
There are, however, reusable BPA-free plastic canning lids you can buy, called Tattler Lids. These reusable lids come in two parts: the lid and a rubber ring. Over time the rubber ring will wear out,
become cracked or get lost, but these rings can be easily replaced and are inexpensive. I have been using the plastic reusable lids for two years and I love them. After three uses they pay for themselves, so if you can regularly, they are a very good investment. You should check the producer’s website for how to purchase and use these lids.