Safe Canning Amid Canning Supply Shortages

Gardens are at the height of production in the Midwest and food preservation is in high gear.  However, many home canners are finding the shelves stripped of canning lids, jars, pectin, vinegar, and the various spices needed for pickling and canning.  Even canners, pressure and water bath, are in short supply.  Like all other shortages experienced in this year of COVID 19, it is a matter of supply for an unanticipated demand along with a slow-down in manufacturing due to either worker safety or shortages of raw materials.

Jars.  While jars are in demand, canners may be able to find jars in storage among friends and relatives or in second hand stores.  If older canning jars are used, an inspection for nicks, chips and cracks before buying or using them is a must. A damaged or disfigured jar should never be used for canning food because they are not safe or they could break during processing, wasting time and food. While true canning jars are USDA recommended and preferred, the National Center for Home Food Preservation says that commercial glass pint- and quart-size mayonnaise or salad dressing jars may be used with new two-piece lids for canning acid foods (food that might be processed in a boiling water bath). However, one should expect more seal failures and jar breakage. These jars have a narrower sealing surface and are tempered less than Mason jars, and may be weakened by repeated contact with metal spoons or knives used in dispensing mayonnaise or salad dressing. Seemingly insignificant scratches in glass may cause cracking and breakage while processing jars in a canner. Mayonnaise-type jars are not recommended for use with foods to be processed in a pressure canner because of excessive jar breakage. Other commercial jars with mouths that cannot be sealed with two-piece canning lids are not recommended for use in canning any food at home.

Canning lids. Canning lids are designed for one-time use and should not be reused for canning.  The sealing compound becomes indented by the first use preventing another airtight seal. Screw bands may be reused unless they are badly rusted or the top edge is pried up which would prevent a proper seal.  Previously used canning lids can be used to top jars of freezer jam, homemade mixes, dried goods, and other non-canned foods. As long as the lids aren’t rusty, they’re fine to use again and again for any purpose that doesn’t involve canning.  The Jarden (Newell) Company, manufacturer of Ball products, says that their lids, unused, have a storage life of five years beyond purchase; therefore, if stored lids are in that range, they can be used.  Reusable canning lids like those made by Tattler or Harvest Guard may be a desperate alternative; they have mixed reviews by canners and are not yet recommended by the USDA. (A study on Tattler reusable lids began in 2013 at The National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Even with grants received in 2014 and 2015 for the study, it appears that the study is still ongoing as there have been no reported results.) If new lids are not to be found, give consideration to freezing or dehydrating rather than canning. 

Canners.  Canners are of three types, boiling water bath, pressure, and steam.  A boiling water bath canner is a large, deep pot or vessel with a lid and a rack used for high acid food preservation; if a new one can’t be purchased, a second-hand one is fine as long as it isn’t rusty or chipped.  A pressure canner is used for low acid foods and is either a weighted gauge or dial gauge type.  An older pressure canner may or may not be safe.  An older pressure canner should only be purchased or used if it is in excellent condition—no imperfections or warping with a lid that fits perfectly and locks easily. Pressure canners build pressure when they are used, and in extreme cases, could explode if the canner is defective or damaged. More importantly would be their ability to process food safely.  At a minimum, the sealing ring should be replaced and the gauge on a dial gauge type be checked by a trained professional.  Dial gauges on pressure canners need to be tested each year against a calibrated ‘master’ gauge. Weighted gauges do not need to be tested as they do not go out of calibration.  An atmospheric steam canner is newer to the scene and can take the place of a water-bath canner.  According to University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers steam canners may be used safely to can naturally acid foods such as peaches, pears, and apples, or acidified-foods such as salsa or pickles as long as specified criteria is met; a steam canner is not recommended for low-acid vegetables and meat.

Pectin.  Some jams and jellies can be made without pectin.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation has information and recipes for making jelly and jams without commercially prepared pectin.

Vinegar. If the recipe does not specify a particular type of vinegar, white or cider vinegar may be used safely as long as it is labeled as 5% acidity or labeled as 50 grain. Apple cider vinegar will impart a different flavor and color when substituted for white vinegar. Specialty vinegars such as red or white wine vinegar, malt vinegar, balsamic, and other flavored vinegars should only be used when specified in a research-tested recipe.

Assorted Pickling Spices.  It may not be necessary to get fresh seeds and spices if there is some on your shelf.  Commercially prepared and packaged spices, stored properly, such as mustard seed, celery seed, dill seed, allspice, and cinnamon sticks, generally have a shelf life of 3-4 years.  Pickling spice is good for up to 3 years.  Spices do loose potency over time.  To test whether a spice is still potent enough to be effective, rub or crush a small amount in your hand, then taste and smell it.  If the aroma is weak and the flavor is not obvious, the spice should not be used as it will not flavor as intended.  Spices may be available from online sites when no longer available in local stores.

The right equipment (and vinegar) is a must to safely preserve food by canning.  Look to friends and family, online and non-conventional sources for help with acquiring supplies and equipment. Whatever is found, do carefully follow the suggestions contained herein to preserve safely.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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28 thoughts on “Safe Canning Amid Canning Supply Shortages

  1. I have a question. When you buy or find old canning jars, most of the time, they are dirty. What is the proper way of sanitizing these jars? It is always possible when you find these, they could have had contaminated food etc. How do I treat these (no history) jars besides tossing them? No one knows for sure if a jar was processed correctly unless you did it yourself.

  2. Cindy, you have some great questions and concerns. To begin, the old jars should be washed with detergent and hot water or placed in the dishwasher for cleaning. If washing by hand and you have any concerns, wear gloves and a mask, and if you have even more concern, wash them outside. After the initial washing, carefully place the jars on their sides in a large vessel or upright in a boiling water canner; a rack should be used between the bottom of the vessel and the jars to prevent breakage. Add water until it is at least one inch above the jars. Cover and heat the water to boiling. Boil 30 minutes to ensure that you have destroyed all toxins; let the jars remain in the hot water until they can be brought out comfortably. Invert the jars on a clean towel to dry. If there is any concern that the jars could have contained spoiled foods, place any sponges or washcloths used in the cleanup in a plastic bag and discard. Another problem with old jars is that they are cloudy due to hard water etching. This is very hard to remove. Even though the jars are unsightly, the hard water does not pose a food safety issue. If the hard water film is not too ancient, soaking jars for several hours in a solution containing 1 cup of vinegar (5% acidity) per gallon of water may remove it.

  3. Excellent information.

    And I think I’ve found out the primary factor in the shortage of jars and lids: hoarding by pirates who are price-gouging on Amazon and Ebay. I know a lot of people who cook and bake homemade bread, and freeze, even dry food regularly, but don’t can, and none of them even talked about thinking about canning. Online in food forums, no added interest from people who don’t already can. No, there was a smaller supply for us regulars, and most of us wanted to can a couple of dozen more than usual. According to clerks at local stores that *had* canning supplies, crews came in huge trucks and bought them out each and every time supplies were available. THOSE jars are not selling for up to $50 a box on ebay. I saw two boxes of lids for $48. It’s that simple. In civilized countries it wouldn’t be legal.

  4. DarcieD, thank you for the positive feedback. There are many reasons for the shortages we see this year. Sadly, shortages may also be the work of unscrupulous characters as you suggest.

  5. Judy, canned tomatoes can be used to make salsa. The best use of canned tomatoes is to make a fresh salsa. Canned tomatoes have an intense, almost concentrated tomato flavor that goes amazingly well with fresh jalapeños, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice. Plus, they break down into a saucy consistency that is really what you want in a good party dip with chips. Most of the researched based salsa recipes start with pounds of tomatoes; I did find a recipe from the University of Kentucky using canned tomatoes to make a canned salsa using Mrs. Wages Salsa Mix. Bear in mind that recanning of any canned product lessens the quality of the original product due to the additional heat and cooking time.

  6. Bob, there are recipes for canning a Bloody Mary mix but we are not able to recommend a tested recipe at this time. I am sorry that we cannot be of more help. We were hoping to get some feedback from another university where a workshop gave participants the opportunity to make a Bloody Mary mix, but have not yet received anything from them regarding the recipe that was used.

  7. I was wonder if it is acceptable to reuse the water from my pressure canner and just add additional to bring to the proper level for the next load when I am doing multiple loads in a day? I would never do this for when I can meat because the water does get dirty. But I was wondering if this is an acceptable practice with vegetables such as corn or beans etc.

  8. Erin, there should be no problem with reusing the water as long as it is clean and of the proper level. Often there is a small amount of jar siphoning that leaves a residue in the water that deposits on the jars making them sticky, etc.–all of which can be/should be removed before storing.

  9. I’m wondering why red or white wine vinegar cannot be used in place of cider or white vinegar, as long as it’s at least 5% acidity?

  10. Country barn fabric in Shiloh Ohio sells the lids and the rings if anyone needs them you have to call them and they will ship them to you

  11. Laura, you will find many sources that will say that as long as the vinegar is 5% acidity, it can be used. The National Center for Home Food Preservation does not make that recommendation unless the tested recipe calls for such. In reading, I found a USDA caution regarding wine and rice vinegars stating “wine and rice vinegars contain some protein that provides an excellent medium for bacterial growth”; it may be that caution that leads to the recommendation.

  12. Sue, since the suggestion came from an AnswerLine Blog reader, I am not privy to this information. If you Google “Country barn fabric Shiloh Ohio” I think you will find the information you seek. Good luck!

  13. Luckily, last winter I noticed I was low on wide mouth jar lids and ordered in bulk from eBay for $3 a box, which I thought was expensive, but the cheapest I could find. Now they are, what?, $10 or $12 a box? If prices don’t drop by next season, I am going to buy a small extra freezer. I’ve seen 5 cubic footers for under $100 when stores have appliance sales, about the cost of a half dozen boxes of lids. I always have a lot of extra tomatoes from my greenhouse. Maybe I’ll just plant less. Yeah, somebody is getting rich from lids.

  14. Roni, everyone is hopeful that the current supply shortage will ease by next year without huge price increases. Getting a freezer may be a good idea; however, there is a shortage of large appliances as well so like canning supplies, it may take some extra effort to get one. Good luck with all!

  15. I have another question on pressure canner loads. Can they be too full? My canner says it will hold 7 quarts but I use quart and 1 1/2 pint jars. Since the 1/ 1/2 pint jars process for the same time as quarts I process mixed loads. I can just fit 6 quarts and 2 1 1/2 pint jars in it Total 8 jars). Is it possible to overpack the canner or am I good if they fit?
    Thank-you for so much help. I have found I love canning but have no where to go for those one-off questions and I want my family yo be safe.

  16. Erin, it is always best to process the recommended number of jars specified by your pressure canner manual. If the jars you are using fit nicely into the canner with a little space around and between the jars so that the heat can penetrate evenly, I see no problem. If the jars are tight to one another, then there might be an issue with even heat penetration as well as jar breakage due to expansion. Canning 1.5 pint jars using time and pressure for quarts would be correct except for the fact that the contents might be slightly overcooked. We at AnswerLine are happy to answer any questions you might have in regard to canning or food preservation of any kind.

  17. I am an experienced canner, but when supplies for lids ran low, I decided to go to what I thought was the “official” Ball/Kerr website. The product I received, lids and rings with white seals, was from Shenzhen China, and although the order was to specification, they were NOT Ball lids, but branded substitutes. My question is, are they safe to use? I have never seen a white seal before, and know how to test if the seal works, but I’m at then end of my rope as to finding canning supplies, and have 40 lbs of tomatos.
    Thanks!

  18. Janna, I feel your frustration. However, I don’t know how to advise you on the safety of these questionable lids. From what I have been reading, you are not alone in being dubbed by Ball knock-offs from China. The easiest way to find out if they seal properly is to test the lids on a quart or two to find out how they perform. If they seal properly during cool down, then one could assume that they function as they should. However, there are still many unknowns–will the seal hold up? are the materials used in the sealing compound food-grade safe? is the metal and coating food-grade safe? Some consumers have noted that the lids are thinner than a true Ball lid; others have noted rough edges and sloppily applied compound. And even more disturbing, some of these lids lack the snap safety feature (raised area in the center of the lid) that every Ball canning lid has. Walmart has been selling lids made in China under their own name for sometime; despite being cheaper in cost, I have not used them as they are thinner than Ball so I was weary. The official Ball website is http://www.freshpreserving.com; to get into the site, you have to acknowledge that you are not a robot by identifying a series of pictures. The Jardin/Newell company that now owns the Ball name stopped selling directly to consumers sometime back so beware of any other “official Ball” site. What to do with your 40 pounds of tomatoes–do you have room in your freezer to freeze them long-term or temporarily? Jardin/Newell says that they will have supplies early next year–too late for this season but an option to can the frozen tomatoes when supplies are available if canned tomatoes is really what you desire.

  19. Is there any extension that has an approved salsa in quarts… All I find is vague information regarding tomato products as to where they state to double acid for quarts. Yet very old stuff says no, yet anything in the last year does not state much.

  20. William, all tested, research-based, USDA approved salsa recipes specify pint jars. If you were canning straight tomatoes (whole, crushed, juiced), the rule for acidifying tomatoes to ensure safe acidity is to add two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes. For pints, use one tablespoon bottled lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon citric acid. Acidification in this manner only applies to tomatoes NOT SALSA.

  21. I just bought a batch of lids and used them. None worked. It could be the method I used or it could be that the sealing glue was bad. Is there a way I can do a test to see if the glue is good?

  22. Rick, What method did you use? The National Center for Home Food Preservation gives these guidelines: When directions say to fill jars and adjust lids, use the following procedures: After filling jars with food and adding covering liquid, release air bubbles by inserting a flat plastic (not metal) spatula between the food and the jar. Slowly turn the jar and move the spatula up and down to allow air bubbles to escape. (It is not necessary to release air bubbles when filling jams, jellies or all liquid foods such as juices.) Adjust the headspace and then clean the jar rim (sealing surface) with a dampened paper towel. Place the preheated lid, gasket down, onto the cleaned jar-sealing surface. Uncleaned jar-sealing surfaces may cause seal failures. Then fit the metal screw band over the flat lid. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines enclosed with or on the box for tightening the jar lids properly.

    Do not retighten lids after processing jars. As jars cool, the contents in the jar contract, pulling the self-sealing lid firmly against the jar to form a high vacuum. If rings are too loose, liquid may escape from jars during processing, and seals may fail.
    If rings are too tight, air cannot vent during processing, and food will discolor during storage. Over tightening also may cause lids to buckle and jars to break, especially with raw-packed, pressure-processed food.

    The only way to pre-test lids, is to begin with one or two jars, follow the above directions for fitting the lids, process the food as directed by the recipe, cool properly, and then test the seal. If you have gotten your lids from a China distributor, there is a chance that the sealing compound may be faulty as that has been the findings of many consumers.

  23. We just received some Ball wide mouth lids that we purchased on Amazon. They shipped from China, and they seem to be imitations. The red sealing compound ring seems much thinner and not as ‘rubbery’ as normal. Should we trust these lids? I was thinking of doing a test run with a few of them to see if they work. Even if they do seal, I still wonder is the seal will hold over time?

  24. Matt, you have all the same concerns that we do with regards to lids coming from China. While they might say Ball, they are not true Ball as the company that manufacturers true Ball lids is US based. We are recommending a test of a jar or two before doing a whole batch to see if they seal just as you suggest. What we don’t know is if the seals will hold over time. Walmart has been selling lids under their own label made in China for several years. We have not used them but have noted that the lids are thinner as is the compound. We have had no feedback from clients specifically addressing failure of the Walmart lids.

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