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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Exploring Portable Burners for Canning

AnswerLine gets questions each year about using a portable burner (hot plate) for canning.  Usually the question comes when a switch has been made to an electric cooktop from a gas range or when a electric-coil range is replaced with a smooth (glass) cooktop, either radiant heat or induction, and the way of canning needs to change to prevent cracking the cooktop, fusing the canner to the cooktop, or under processing of the canned product posing a food safety risk. 

Industry has answered the call for canners appropriate for induction cooktops with several options available.  That aside, consumers still have valid concerns about the weight of canners and the intense heat on the surface along with scratching if the canner is slid or drug across the cooktop.  When the options are beyond using the new cooktop or installing a second electric coil or gas burner range top, perhaps it makes sense to purchase a portable electric or gas burner.

Earlier this year, I, too, was exploring acceptable heat options for canning. While I have yet to purchase a new range, my 30-plus year old electric-coil range struggled last summer with the canner challenge; the struggle was sufficiently challenging to make me consider new options before getting into canning this year.  In addition, I know that when I make that purchase, it will likely be a smooth electric cooktop and my pressure and water bath canners will no longer work.  

The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) offers these guidelines for selecting a portable burner for canning purposes:

The burner must be level, sturdy, and secure. Look for enough height to allow air to flow under the burner, but not such that it will become unsteady with a full, heavy canner resting on it.

Look for a burner diameter that is no more than 4 inches smaller than the diameter of your canner. In other words, the canner should not extend more than 2 inches from the burner on any side.  For heating a typical 12-inch diameter canner, the coil must be at least eight inches in diameter. 

 – For electric burners, you want the wattage to be about equal to that of a typical household range large burner which is 1750W or higher.  The best portable heaters found run 1500W which are deemed to be acceptable.

– You want the burner to have housing that will hold up to the high heat under the canner for long heating periods, and not damage counter tops with reflected heat.

An outdoor heat source such as a gas grill is not recommended by The National Center for Home Food Preservation for various reasons; however, a portable burner can be used outside as long as it is in a location away from wind, yet well ventilated. 

In addition to advice from NCHFP, I found a lot of researched based information along with references at the Healthy Canning website.

Having read all the recommendations, I began to explore my options looking at commercial burners used in restaurants. While inexpensive, most home units are too light weight and have insufficient wattage to be considered for canning.  The commercial units seemed to meet the NCFHP recommendations and received the highest recommendations from canning and restaurant users.  My search narrowed to two models made/sold by the same company.  One had a cast-iron burner and the other a coil burner.  In the end I chose the one with a cast-iron burner knowing that it would take longer to heat and cool, but seemed to offer the most stability.

Recently my portable burner made its canning debut as a heat source to water bath a batch of raspberry jam.  It worked very well for this application.  The temperature was easy to control.  Because the jam recipe only made four half-pints of jam, I did not use the big water bath canner so that test is still to be made as I move into canning season along with the pressure canner.  Besides using the portable burner for my primary intended use of canning, it has come in handy to heat water for defrosting my downstairs freezer, keeping food warm for outdoor meals, and being that ‘extra burner’ when needed. 

While not an option for me, an electric water bath canner sold by Ball® may be a good investment for water bath only canners says Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Food Safety Specialist.  This is a stand-alone canner with its own heater/burner system much like an electric pressure cooker.  It can also be used to make soups or stews.  However, an electric pressure cooker is not recommended by the USDA or NCHFP for canning of any sort despite information one may find on various websites.

UPDATES: The portable burner that I purchased got a work out during the summer canning season and worked perfectly for all my pressure and water bath canning. Temperature control was easy and very consistent. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I also think it reduced the amount of kitchen heat that comes with canning.

And, since this blog was written, a new option has become available from Presto. This company has developed a digital pressure canner, Presto Precise®. It is the first digital pressure canner that meets USDA home canning guidelines for safely processing meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, and other low acid foods. Further, it doubles as a boiling water canner for preserving fruits, jams, jellies, pickles, and salsa. It is also said to process more efficiently than processing on a high wattage burner or gas stove thereby reducing kitchen heat. It may be the future of home canning equipment. I certainly am intrigued.

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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Kitchen Mixer Scraping Tip

Last year I acquired my mother’s Kitchen Aid® Food Preparer (Mixer).  I didn’t really need it as I’ve had a perfectly good mixer of another brand for many years.  My mixer did all the chores I asked of it and I was completely comfortable with its operation.  However, I just couldn’t bring myself to sell or donate my mother’s prized possession.  She purchased it in 1978 for a sum of money that she worked diligently to pay for by decorating cakes.  She loved it and over the many years that she owned it, it was well used to prepare foods of many kinds.

Wanting to love this piece of equipment as my mother had (and so many friends do), I boxed up my mixer, put it in storage, and set my mother’s mixer in its place.  I had never used a Kitchen Aid® before so I was a novice; fortunately, there was an instruction manual to go with it which guided me on which attachment for what and what speeds to use, etc.  I continue to learn as I try new things with it.  While it can do many operations quite nicely, I was befuddled and frustrated with scraping down the sides of the bowl while creaming butter and sugar or any other operation requiring scraping.  With my previous mixer, I was able to scrape along the inside of the bowl with a rubber/silicon scrapper anytime needed.  Not so with my new friend; every time the bowl needed scraping, I had to stop the machine, lift the head, scrape, and restart the operation.  

As if in answer to my frustration, I spotted an online Food and Wine article sharing information about a new Kitchen Aid® attachment, the Flex Edge Beater, designed specifically to take care of my problem.  The Flex Edge Beater is the classic beating attachment with a sturdy rubber/silicon outer blade wrapped completely or half-way around the blade for the purpose of continuously scraping the sides of the bowl and bring ingredients into the batter.

The article gave some good reasons for using the new attachment with the first being my No 1 problem: no more stopping and lifting to scrape the bowl!  It also mentioned thoroughly combined ingredients (no more flour or other ingredient left at the bottom of the bowl), reduced strain on the motor, and using the beater in place of a spatula to wipe out the bowl.  Sold!

I was not able to find the beater in any of my local stores so I ordered one online.  I am pleased to say that the new flex beater lives up to its promotion and I am indeed beginning to love the new (old) machine.

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

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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Juicing Grapes and Other Fruits

America’s favorite juice and jelly grape, the Concord, is ripe now.   We have a single vine that was planted a number of years ago by our daughter who gave it to her dad for Father’s Day.  It took a few years before it matured enough to harvest grapes; now many years later and with the right early-spring pruning and weather conditions, we have a large number of grapes to harvest and enjoy.  When the harvests were small, it was possible for me to turn what we harvested into a batch of grape jam or jelly for family or occasional gift use.  As my kids left and the harvest increased, it was no longer possible to easily use what we were harvesting for jam and jelly and it took too much time to make juice. 

In my quest to conquer the grape harvest, I learned about steam juicers.  After researching them, I purchased a stainless steel unit and haven’t looked back.  Steam juicers have three pots and a lid that stack on top of each other–water reservoir at the bottom, collection pan with funnel opening in the middle, and steam basket on top.  They work by stewing the juice out of the fruit. Water in the bottom pot is brought to a low boil, the steam funnels through the middle collection pan up and through the fruit in the steam basket at the top.  The steam does all the work. As the fruit heats up, the fruit juices are released and run down into the middle collection section of the juicer.  As the collection pan fills, the juice begins to run out of the unit through a silicon tube on the front of the extraction section to a collection vessel placed away from the unit.  The juice is clear, free of pulp, and is ready to drink, can, or freeze after it comes out of the steamer.  So easy!

The steamer saves so much time and effort.  After the grapes are picked, I wash the bunches and as I do so, I pull off any green or unripe grapes, leaves, and other debris that might be attached.  There is no need to stem, remove seeds or skins, or crush.  They are then packed into the basket and placed atop the middle extraction section with slowly boiling water below.  With the lid in place, the steam slowly goes to work.  There is no chance of over steaming the fruit; one just needs to be mindful of keeping sufficient water in the lower pot so that it doesn’t boil dry.  Extraction is complete when the fruit has completely collapsed; it is a good idea to let the collapsed fruit sit for awhile after steaming as juice will continue to be released for a long while after steaming.  If there is need to move on with another batch, the collapsed fruit can be placed in a colander on the counter and allowed to drain while steaming goes on with additional batches.

Directions one might find online suggest that the juice can be drained right into hot sterilized canning jars, capped, and left to cool on the counter.  This is not a good practice if the intention is put the juice on the shelf; doing so would be fine if the juice was to be used immediately or frozen.  To be shelf safe, fruit juices need to be processed in a hot water bath.  (For more information see National Center for Home Food Preservation.)

Since I do not have room in my freezer for all the juice I get, I need to prepare it for the shelf.  Instead of collecting the juice in sterilized jars, I collect all the juice in a large pot or pots.  After all the grapes have been juiced, I reheat the juice to near boiling, fill the sterilized canning jars leaving 1/4-inch head space, cap, and place in a boiling water canner for the appropriate time for my altitude.

Once the jars have cooled and sat for 24 hours undisturbed, the juice is read for future jelly making or as juice to drink.  Sugar can be added prior to or after canning if needed; it’s all a matter of personal preference.  I usually don’t add sugar to our grape juice as we like it as is.  However, my grand kids like it a bit sweeter so they add a little sugar to their individual glasses to suit their taste.  We also like it mixed with apple juice.  After the juice has cooled and set on the counter undisturbed for 24 hours, it is ready to go on my shelf.

The juicer is good for far more than grapes.  Just about any type of fruit works with a steam juicer; cherries, plums, apricots, blueberries, cranberries, apples, pears are just some suggestions.

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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Keeping Your Clothes Dryer Safe

Most people don’t think about their clothes dryer as being a potentially dangerous appliance in their home.  Unfortunately, dryers are the source of thousands of house fires each year as well as some household mold issues.   With just a little regular cleaning and maintenance, you can protect your family and home from these dangers.

It doesn’t matter if you have an electric or gas clothes dryer.  The problem is lint.  Lint builds up in the lint trap, inside the vent hose and duct work, and inside the vent.  Whenever this happens, there is a reduction in air flow resulting in reduced drying efficiency.  Lint is also responsible for causing humidity levels to increase around vents and duct work which in turn can cause mildew and mold to develop in walls and insulation.   And most importantly, lint is combustible and causes fires.  Failure to clean the dryer is the leading cause of home dryer fires.

Here’s some tips for keeping your dryer, duct work, and vent as lint free as possible.

  • Clean the lint trap after every load or at the very least, at the end of a laundry cycle.  If you use fabric softener sheets, check the screen for clogging as some sheets will emit enough residue that the screen becomes clouded and tacky.  Should the screen be clogged, submerge the lint screen in hot water, soapy water and clean the screen with a bristle brush to get rid of the residue.
  • Invest in a dryer lint brush.  These long-handled flexible brushes are available at most hardware stores and allow one to clean areas that cannot be reached by hand down inside of the dryer, hoses, and ducts.  You may be surprised by the chunks of lint that the brush pulls out.  After removing the lint filter and cleaning with the brush, run the dryer on “air only” after using the dryer brush.  This will bring up any lint that might have been dislodged but didn’t cling to the brush.
  • Unplug and pull the dryer out at least once a year and vacuum any dust and lint that might have accumulated around the dryer, back of the dryer, floor, cabinets, etc.  While the dryer is out, remove the duct hose or duct.  You may need a screwdriver or pliers to remove the connecting clip or steel clamp.  Use the dryer brush inside the dryer opening to remove the lint accumulation.  Do the same with the hose or duct.  If you have a long duct to the outside as I do, you will have to rig a longer handle onto the brush.
  • Replace the duct hose if you have a white or silver vinyl duct hose.  All building codes now require metal or aluminum ducting for clothes dryers.  The ducting may be rigid or flexible.  If flexible aluminum ducting is used, it should be cleaned more often as it tends to collect more lint along the ridges.
  • Lastly, clean the exterior vent.  This is usually done from the outside of the home by lifting the flaps.  Using your hands or a brush, removed as much lint as possible.  Most of the flaps on the exterior vent can be removed to make cleaning easier.  Replace the flaps if they have been removed and make sure that they open properly.

A little dryer cleaning in a timely manner will greatly reduce the risk of fire.  Further, avoid starting the dryer before going to bed and running it while no one is at home.

For more information see the safety alert from the Consumer Products Commission,  https://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/118931/5022.pdf

Additional flyers like the one at the beginning of the blog are public domain publications and available for download from FEMA at https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/clothes_dryers.html

 

 

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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