Getting to Know the National Center for Home Food Preservation

When AnswerLine clients have questions about food preservation, reference is often made to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). What is the National Center for Home Food Preservation?  What relationship does it have with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) when it comes to food preservation?

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a publicly-funded center for research and education for home food preservation. The center is located in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia® and is hosted by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. The NCHFP is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. The mission of NCHFP is to conduct and coordinate research to further develop knowledge in the field of food preservation and to share science-based recipes, techniques, and guidelines with educators and end-users to insure that foods preserved in the home are done so safely.

The Center was established in 2000 with funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (NIFA-USDA) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods. The Cooperative Extension System (CES) and USDA have long been recognized as credible sources for science-based recommendations. For more background on the USDA work in food preservation and the founding of the NCHFP, see the webinar, Welcome to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Dr. Elizabeth Andress, who was instrumental in founding NCHFP, became the first director in 1999. She served as director until her retirement in December 2021. During her tenure, the center researched home canning and preservation recipes and methods; published So Easy to Preserve; developed the NCHFP website; wrote current topic blogs; developed preservation curriculum and courses suitable for institutions, workshops or webinars; and revised and updated the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015). The NCHFP webinar also discusses additional work done by the center.

NCHFP is now under new leadership. In November 2021, the University of Georgia announced Dr. Carla Schwan as the new director of the NCHFP, along with titles of Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in food safety and home food preservation. Dr. Schwan recently completed her Ph.D. and postdoctoral research at Kansas State University and began her appointment at NCHFP January 2, 2022. NCHFP has been a strong resource for home food preservation research and guidance and will continue to be there for consumers under Dr. Schwan’s leadership.

The resources provided by the NCHFP have become increasingly important in recent years. Due to consumer desire to have more control over their food and the impact of COVID-19, many consumers have turned to home gardening and food preservation at home. Both factors have led to demand for science-based information to educate consumers on safe methods to preserve food. 

Every consumer interested in food preservation should faithfully use the resources provided by NCHFP. If you are not familiar with the NCHFP, spend some time perusing the website or order So Easy to Preserve or USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015). You’ll discover useful food preservation tips, find answers to food preservation questions, and be inspired to can, freeze, dry, pickle, jam and jelly at home safely!

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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Elevation? Does It Matter?

While residents of most midwestern states usually don’t think about their elevation, elevation affects all aspects of food preparation–cooking, baking, canning, jams and jellies, and candy making. As elevation rises, air pressure falls and water boils at lower temperatures making recipe adjustments necessary.

Pan of boiling water on stovetop
Boiling water at 1014 Ft of elevation – Photo: mrgeiger

Elevation and Everyday Cooking and Baking

When it comes to everyday cooking and baking, there are few noticeable effects of elevation until one reaches 3,000 feet. Higher elevations present several challenges when preparing some foods. At higher elevations, leavened products using yeast, baking powder/soda, egg whites, or steam rise more rapidly, may collapse, and may not be fully cooked. Because water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations, foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer. High elevation areas are also prone to low humidity, which can cause the moisture in foods to evaporate more quickly during cooking. At elevations above 3,000 feet, preparation of food may require changes in time, temperature or recipe.  For those that find themselves at higher elevations, Colorado State University and New Mexico State University have excellent tips and guidelines for successful baking and cooking.

Elevation and Canning Safety

Because water boils at 212°F at sea level and decreases about 1°F for each 500-ft increase in elevation, adjustments must be made when canning foods at home to ensure home-canned foods are processed safely. The amount of time that jars are held at a certain temperature during canning is important to producing a safe product. Processing times for most recipes are based on elevations of 0-1,000 feet unless stated otherwise. When elevations are above 1,000 feet, extra time is added for food processed in a water-bath canner. For food processed in a pressure canner, extra pressure is added. Both adjustments are needed to get to their respective safe processing temperatures for high acid and low acid foods. 

USDA and National Center For Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recipes include a table for proper processing based on elevation to insure sufficient time and temperature have been reached for a safe, shelf-stable product. In the NCHFP table for Crushed Tomatoes, note that time is increased in 5 minute increments as elevation increases for boiling water canning and pounds of pressure is increased for pressure canning. (Crushed tomatoes are one example of a food that can be processed by either boiling-water bath or pressure.)

While time is adjusted for water-bath canning, pressure regulation differs by the type of pressure canning equipment used—dial- or weighted-gauge canner.

Elevation and Sugar Concentrations

Elevation is also a factor in candy making and the gelling of jams and jellies when pectin is not used. At higher altitudes, atmospheric pressure is less so water boils at lower temperatures and evaporates more quickly. Syrups become concentrated and reach the gel point at a lower temperature. The concentration of sugar required to form a gel is in the range of 60 to 65 percent which occurs at 217 and 220 degrees F, respectively, at sea level. As elevation increases, the gelling point decreases by 2 degrees per 1,000 feet. When elevation is not taken into consideration, overcooked jam is the result as too much water has boiled away leaving a sugar concentration that is too high, leaving a jam that is gummy, dark in color or tough. The same is true for candy making. For each 1,000 feet above sea level, reduce the temperature in the recipe by 2 degrees F to prevent overcooking. Colorado State University provides a High Elevation Candy Making (Sugar Solution) Adjustment chart for various kinds of candy mixtures.

Find and Know Your Elevation

Elevation matters in all aspects of food preparation. It is especially important for the safety of home canned products beginning at elevations above 1,000 feet. Before beginning the canning process or making sugar concentrations, find your elevation using one of these sources to insure proper processing of canned products and prevent overcooking of jams and candies:

  1. Visit a web page about your town or city.
  2. Use an online tool such as What is my elevation?
  3. Use a smartphone app such as My Elevation.
  4. Refer to an elevation map for your state showing approximate elevations such as this one by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach from the Preserve the Taste of Summer series.

To learn more about elevation, watch this YouTube video by UNL Extension Food & Fitness.

To learn more about safe water-bath or pressure canning practices, watch these videos produced by South Dakota State University:

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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Pressure Canner Load

Pressure canner and boxes of lidsIs there a minimum load limit or guidance on the number of jars one must have for pressure canning?

Guidance has been given by the USDA and National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) regarding the minimum physical size requirements to be considered a pressure canner: the device must be large enough to hold at least 4 quart jars standing upright on a rack with the lid secure for USDA and NCHFP published recipes and processes.  Pressure canners meeting the specifications come in various sizes with either a dial gauge or a weighted gauge.

A minimum load for a pressure canner has not been specified by the USDA or NCHFP.  In 2016, Ball canning issued guidance on a minimum pressure canner load stating, “To ensure proper pressure and temperature is achieved for safe processing, you must process at least 2 quart or 4 pint jars in the pressure canner at one time.”

At this time, the USDA, NCHFP, university extensions, and contacted pressure canner manufacturers have not endorsed or tested the Ball recommendation regarding the 2 quarts/4 pints load minimum for safety.  However, it may be a good practice.  The more jars there are in a pressure canner, the more space is filled and the quicker it will vent (and the less time the food in the jars will be subjected to heat).2  UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County (CA) have found that a very small canner load can be difficult to bring up to required pressure and risks the water in the canner running dry.  At any rate, canner load would have an effect on the warm-up and cool-down times, both of which are important to tested pressure canning processes.

When pressure canning a small batch, add jars of water (no lids necessary) to fill the canner space.  The added jars will also prevent jars with food content from tipping over.  Adding jars of water when water-bath or steam canning also helps with jars floating or tipping.

If you have canning questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or e-mail. We are happy to help!

Sources:

1The All New Ball Book Of Canning And Preserving, 2016, page 274.

2Pressure Canner Minimum Loads, UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County, December 2023.

Updated January 2024, mg.

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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Start a Canning and Preserving Notebook/Journal

With gardens and orchards coming to their seasonal ends, food preservation is wrapping up.  Now is the time to make a note of it!  Better yet, start a preserving notebook if you do not already have one to get ready and organized for coming seasons.

Cover of a preserving notebook
Cover of Preserving Notebook – Photo: mrgeiger

A few years ago, I had the brilliant idea to start a notebook of safe canning recipes so that I did not have to look them up or remember where they came from when I was ready to preserve. Since that time, that notebook has become my go-to for all things food preservation and includes recipes, tips, notes, answers to questions, quantities made and used, dates made or put into storage, new equipment to check out, and more–anything that I need to jog my memory.  I only wish that I had started my notebook and journal many years ago; it would have saved me so much time, saved me from making mistakes, kept me organized, prevented food waste, and made sharing and preserving so much easier and more efficient. It would also be a wonderful history of my canning and preserving life.

The notebook, a 3-ring binder, started with recipes copied or printed from reliable sources for all of the usual things—tomatoes, green beans, fruit juice, strawberry jam, salsa, etc. As time has gone on, more recipes have been added, expanding the kinds of things preserved as well as helpful information including updated methods. Another valuable part of my notebook is the annual journal listing the foods preserved, how much, when, recipe, etc. At first, it was just a piece of notebook paper with columns.  Since then I have made a page using Excel on my computer that can be printed each year and penciled in as preservation takes place. 

The best time to start a notebook or journal is NOW while you may still have memories of what you did in the past season and prepare for a new canning or preserving season. Besides making preservation more efficient, it can also be a way to be creative making it your own like a scrapbook. If you are not crafty, there are ready-made and even handcrafted personalized canning and preserving journals available to purchase. Most of these are available on various online sites.

Preserve what you have learned or have done. Keep track of all your canning and preserving projects for future seasons and perhaps posterity! You’ll be glad you did!

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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Welcome Jennie Savits to AnswerLine!

AnswerLine is pleased to welcome Jennie Savits as our newest team member. Jennie joined AnswerLine on June 1 and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. Further, she is no stranger to Iowa State University or Extension and Outreach.  

Jennie holds BS/MS degrees in Food Science from Iowa State University and completed 11 years with the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University. While with the Institute, Jennie held various roles in the lab and in the field. She worked on extension and outreach activities and research projects to support the local grape and wine industry in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. Jennie also has experience with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University as a lecturer, where she taught food science laboratory courses and oversaw laboratory renovations.

Jennie’s interest in food science stemmed from participation in the 4H and FFA organizations. Growing up in rural Boone County, she was a member of the Harrison Happy Hustlers 4-H club and the Boone A&M FFA Chapter. Jennie enjoyed completing 4H projects in the areas of food and nutrition, horticulture, and livestock. Food science became a key area of interest after she competed on a team that won the inaugural Iowa FFA Food Science Career Development Event (CDE). Their team went on to place 2nd nationally and directed Jennie’s career path toward food science.

Jennie says that she really enjoys the opportunity to help people find answers and solve problems, especially on topics related to food safety and food preservation. Jennie has developed strong relationships within the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach organization and looks forward to helping disseminate research based information to those we serve.

Family
Savits family – Photo: jsavits

Jennie lives with her husband, Paul, and their 5 children on a farm near Ogden. She enjoys spending time with family, helping out around the farm, and gardening.

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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Steam Juicing Grapes and Other Fruits

America’s favorite juice and jelly grape, the Concord, is ripe now. Extracting a clear juice from grapes or any fruit for a jelly or juice can be a daunting task. A steam juicer makes juicing fruit easy and results in a clear juice ready for making jelly or saving the juice. The prep work is minimal; steam does all the work.

Steam canner
Three-piece steam juicer – Photo: mrgeiger

Steam juicers are a four-part stacked cooking unit–a water reservoir bottom pan, a middle collection pan with a funnel opening in the center, a steam basket pan, and a lid. Water is placed in the bottom pan and boiled gently. As it boils, steam funnels up through the hole in the middle pan and heats the fruit in the steam basket pan. The lid prevents the steam from escaping. As the fruit heats, the fruit releases its juice which drips down through the holes in the steam basket and collects in the middle pan. As the collection pan fills, the juice begins to run out of the unit through a silicon tube on the front of the middle collection pan into a heatproof vessel placed below the unit. The juice is clear, free of pulp, and is ready to drink, gel, can, or freeze after it comes out of the steamer. So easy!

The steamer saves so much time and effort. For a step-by-step ‘how to’, see Steam Juicing: Extracting the Juice, by UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County, CA. 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. If there is a 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.

While many internet sites 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 safe practice. To be shelf safe, fruit juices need to be processed in a hot water bath. (See directions at National Center for Home Food Preservation.) Jelly can be made directly from the extracted juice. The juice may also be frozen for future use. Sugar may be added prior to canning or freezing, if desired.

Just about any type of fruit works with a steam juicer; cherries, plums, apricots, blueberries, cranberries, apples, and pears are just some suggestions. Fruits like apples or pears should be cut in half before steaming while all small fruits can be left whole. Steam juicers can also be used to extract juice from vegetables. When not being used for juicing, the bottom pan makes a great cooking vessel and when combined with the steam basket, it becomes a great steamer for steaming vegetables and other food items or steam blanching vegetables before freezing.

Some fruit and vegetable juices do well to sit for a period before using or preserving to allow any sediment to settle. Grapes, in particular, are prone to tartrate crystal formation. To learn more about preventing tartrate crystals, see Preventing Crystals in Grape Jelly, Jam, Syrup, and Juice, blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/?p=10143.

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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Preventing Crystals in Grape Jelly, Jam, Syrup, and Juice

jars of grape jelly and grapes
Fresh grapes surround grape jelly.

The last things that anyone wants to find in homemade grape jelly or syrup are granular or crunchy bits or a hard crystal formation at the bottom of a jar of juice or intermingled in jelly. After the effort of foraging wild grapes or picking domestic grapes, juicing the grapes, straining the juice, and making and processing juice, syrup, or jelly/jam, these finds are discouraging. The hard formation or crunch bits are crystals—crystals formed from tartrate acid, sugar, or evaporation. 

What Are Tartrate Crystals?

Tartrate crystal formed at the bottom of grape juice.  Photo by M Geiger.
Tartrate crystal formed at the bottom of grape juice. Photo by M Geiger.

Grapes differ from many other fruits in that they contain tartaric acid, a unique, natural compound. When juice is extracted from grapes and cooled, the tartaric acid reacts with potassium, the mineral of highest concentration in most grape juices, to form harmless potassium bitartrate crystals, also known as tartrate crystals or tartrates. While the crystals pose no food safety risk, they are certainly unwanted when preparing grape juice, syrup, jams, jellies, and even wine. Tartrates in wine are known as wine diamonds and may appear as salt crystals, glass shards, or fine dust in a bottle or glass of wine—visual defects that the wine industry works hard to prevent. Tartaric acid is used in the making of cream of tartar.

Preventing Tartrate Crystals

Regardless of the grape variety or color, preventing tartrates is easy to solve with time and filtering materials. 

Begin by extracting the juice from the grapes by traditional methods or a steam canner. Let the freshly extracted juice sit undisturbed overnight or for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Oregon State University Extension suggests two to five days. My personal experience is that longer is better if one has the time and space, as crystals have formed in my juices after sitting overnight and even after 24 hours. When the juice is warm, the tartaric acid is suspended; as the juice cools, the tartaric acid binds with the potassium to form solid crystals that sink to the bottom of the container along with any other sediment.

Remove the juice from the refrigerator, being careful not to disturb the juice. Clarify the juice by pouring the juice into a clean container through cheesecloth, a jelly bag, or a fine strainer before beginning any further preparation. As you near the bottom of the container, avoid pouring the sediment and crystals into the container. The sediment and crystals should be discarded. It is also an option to filter the juice a second time, if desired. 

Free of tartrates and sediment, the juice is ready to be used for jelly, syrup, or juice. Recipes for jellysyrup, and juice can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. The juice can also be frozen to be used later for making jelly or enjoying as juice.

What are Sugar Crystals?

Sugar is made up of tiny sucrose crystals which prefer to remain in their dry, undisturbed crystalline state. Even when sugar is dissolved in liquid, as when making jams and jellies, the sugar molecules like to congregate into groups or crystals. All they need to start the process is a “seed,” such as a lone undissolved sugar crystal as a nucleus to draw other sugar molecules towards it. Sugar crystals are not unique to grape sweet spreads. Regardless of the fruit, the sugar must be completely dissolved with no traces of crystals to provide a “seed” when making sweet spreads or syrups.

Preventing Sugar Crystals

Crystals in sweet spreads may be caused by excessive sugar, undissolved sugar sticking to the sides of the kettle, or a mixture cooked too slowly, too long, or too little. To prevent crystals from forming:

  • Follow the recipe exactly. Do not add or decrease the sugar or double the recipe.
  • Wipe the side of the pan free of crystals with a damp cloth before filling the jars. This will prevent a seed point from forming.
  • Cook with a rapid boil. Remove from heat immediately when the jellying point is reached.
  • Cook until the sugar has completely dissolved and mixed with the fruit juice.

Learn additional tips to prevent crystals from this Penn State Extension video. Sweet spreads exhibiting sugar crystals are safe to eat.

Evaporation Crystals

Crystals that form at the top of a jar of jelly or sweet spread that has been opened and allowed to stand are caused by evaporation of liquid. Over time, these crystals may also work their way down through the spread. This is usually due to long-term refrigeration or a poorly capped jar kept in the refrigerator. Fruit spreads exhibiting evaporation crystals are safe to eat. White, fluffy mold on the surface of a sweet spread is a sign of spoilage and should be discarded.

Sweet spreads that have crystallized due to evaporation can sometimes be saved with a gentle rewarming to melt the crystals, as one might reheat honey that has crystallized. Place the jar in a pan of hot water or carefully microwave until the crystals melt. Stir as needed. If melting is successful, a fresh jar should be used to prevent recrystallization from the crystals that may remain on the walls of the jar. Adding a small amount of lemon juice or corn syrup may also fix it. In all cases, it is usually a temporary fix as the product may crystallize again if not used in a timely manner. A tight-fitting lid is the best prevention.

With just a little patience and careful preparation, crystals of all types can be prevented in grape products.

References

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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It’s Salsa Time!

Tomatoes – peppers – onions – spices! GO! It’s time to make salsa! 

jars of home canned salsa
Jars of various kinds of salsa.

Salsa is a great candidate for fresh, frozen, or canned preparations. Any combination of ingredients may be used for fresh or frozen salsa without concern for foodborne illness. Canned salsas, on the other hand, must be made with care to prevent botulism poisoning. Most salsa recipes are a mixture of low-acid foods like onions and peppers and acid foods like tomatoes or fruit. Salsa can only be safely canned in a boiling water bath IF the recipe meets the acidity levels needed to prevent the growth of botulism bacteria.

The following caution about using original salsa recipes is emphasized in the Pacific Northwestern Extension publication, Salsa Recipes for Canning: Because salsas are a mixture of acid and low-acid ingredients, they are an example of an acidified food appropriate for boiling water canning if–and only if–the level of acidity is adequate to prevent the production of the botulism toxin. If the mixture has less acidity, it needs to be treated as a low-acid food, which requires additional laboratory testing to develop the processing recommendations for the elimination of botulism risk. To avoid this serious foodborne illness, follow the directions carefully of tested recipes. Never can salsas that do not follow a tested recipe.

The best way to ensure a safe home-canned salsa is to carefully follow a tested recipe. Below are a few sources for finding a safe canning recipe that suits your taste. A popular recipe is Choice Salsa from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, featuring more flavor from peppers and onions. Links to other recipe sources include:

Corn and black beans are ingredients used in some commercially prepared salsas; currently, there are no research-based recipes for home canned salsas using these ingredients. Add these ingredients and others at the time of use. Tomato-Based Salsas by the University of Minnesota Extension has additional excellent tips for making salsa safely.

While it is important to follow a research-tested recipe, some substitutions or changes can safely be made to tested salsa recipes. Safe substitutions or changes include:

  • Change tomato variety or color. Any color or variety of tomato can be used. Paste tomatoes such as Roma have firmer flesh and produce thicker salsa than slicing tomatoes. Seeds or juice should not be removed unless the recipe specifies such action. Tomato quantity should not change.
  • Substitute sweet peppers for hot peppers, and vice versa, measure for measure when preparing home-canned salsa using a tested recipe. The same is true for onions, as red, white, and yellow onions are interchangeable, measure for measure.
  • Reduce or eliminate the sugar or salt in any tested salsa recipe.
  • Reduce the amount of low-acid ingredients such as onion, celery, or green peppers in a tested salsa recipe. Do not substitute corn, black beans, or any other low-acid ingredients for an ingredient being reduced.
  • Substitute tomatillos for tomatoes as long as the total amount remains the same.
  • Change types and amounts of dried spices and herbs, but do not add extra fresh herbs to recipes.
  • Replace 5% acidity vinegar with bottled lemon or lime juice but not vice versa.

For safety, you may not:

  • Add ingredients such as corn or black beans to any salsa recipe, or substitute corn or black beans for other ingredients such as peppers or onions.
  • Reduce the type or amount of acid, such as lemon or lime juice, or vinegar, in a tested recipe. If it tastes too tart, add a bit of sugar.
  • Increase the amount of fresh herbs or garlic in a tested salsa recipe. Fresh herbs may be added to the salsa just before serving.
  • Do not thicken salsa with any thickening agent. If salsa from a tested recipe is thinner than you prefer, strain the salsa before serving or using it as an ingredient.

Freezing is the only safe long-term option for preserving untested or original salsa recipes. A salsa that has been frozen may be watery when thawed. The excess juice may be drained off or thickened with a starch or tomato paste just before serving. Frozen salsa containers should be opened upon removal from the freezer to create an aerobic (with oxygen) environment to deter the potential growth of Clostridium botulinum.  Fresh salsas may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Salsa may only be water-bath canned in pint jars; there are no tested recipes for quarts or for pressure canning.

Additional sources

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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Conditioning Dried Foods

The dictionary defines ‘conditioning’ as a means to change a behavior or strengthen muscles.  In the realm of food preservation safety, ‘conditioning’ is the process used to equalize moisture left in food after dehydrating to decrease the chance of spoilage or mold growth.  While conditioning could be used for all dried foods (herbs, vegetables, and fruits), conditioning is most important for fruit including tomatoes.

Dehydrated foods in glass jars.
Dehydrated foods in jars – Photo: Canva.com

The moisture content of home dried fruit should be about 20 percent1 or less when removed from the dehydrator or oven.  However, due to the size of the pieces, location in the dryer, or uneven drying, the remaining moisture may not be evenly distributed among the pieces. Even drying can be hard to obtain in a home dehydrator and naturally some pieces will likely have more than a 20% moisture. Because there is no sure way to test for moisture at home, conditioning becomes necessary and is the last step before final storage.  Conditioning is not necessary if the fruit is dried for immediate snacking rather than storage; dried fruit for snacking should be stored in the fridge and eat within 3-4 days.

Conditioning is easily done following these steps:

  1. Cool foods on trays and test for dryness. Dried fruits should be leathery and pliable when cool. Squeeze a handful of the fruit. If no moisture is left on the hand and pieces spring apart when released, they are dry.2
  2. Place the food into non-porous, food grade containers (glass or clear plastic jars work great) filling about two-thirds full.  Seal the container with a lid.
  3. Shake or stir the contents daily for 10-14 days.  During this time, the drier pieces will absorb the excess moisture of the less dried pieces.
  4. Check for condensation on the lid or sides of the container or food pieces sticking together.  Also, look for signs of spoilage.  If condensation is noted, return the food to the dryer for additional drying time followed by another conditioning. If there is any sign of mold, discard the product.

If drying the same food in successive batches, freshly dried fruit may be added to a conditioning batch within the first five days with conditioning time lengthened to accommodate the additional food.3 Conditioning is also recommended for fruit leathers.

What about conditioning vegetables and herbs? It is easier to tell when vegetables and herbs are thoroughly dry. Dried vegetables should be hard and brittle. For more information on individual vegetables, check out Drying Vegetables – 9.308 to help determine dryness. Herbs are dry when they are crisp and crumbly. Conditioning of vegetables and herbs is an option to reduce concern.

Once fruit is conditioned, it is ready for packaging in glass jars, food-grade plastic containers or plastic food-storage bags.  The packaging used should provide an airtight seal.  An oxygen or moisture absorber may be added but is not necessary.  Packaging in smaller amounts is recommended as once the package is opened, quality begins to deteriorate; the food may lose flavor or absorb moisture and odors from the air.  Storing in a cool, dry, dark location is best. The same packaging recommendations apply to vegetables and herbs.

So while the dictionary doesn’t define the conditioning of dried foods, perhaps a third definition should be added. Conditioning is an essential step in the safety of dried foods, particularly fruits and tomatoes.

Sources:

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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Calcium Chloride for Crispness

Calcium Chloride is a firming agent that can be used in quick-processed pickles for crispness. It works by firming the natural pectin of the vegetable. It should not be confused with table salt, which is sodium chloride.

Calcium chloride products
Calcium chloride products – Photo: mrgeiger

Currently, calcium chloride is available to consumers as a granular product under the labels of Ball Pickle Crisp® and Mrs. Wages Xtra Crunch®. Regardless of the label, both are pure, certified food-grade calcium chloride. (Non-food-grade calcium chloride should not be used for home canning.) Calcium chloride is a safe, non-toxic food additive that has been tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Calcium chloride may be used in place of food-grade lime (calcium hydroxide) to firm pickles. However, it does so with less fuss and offers the same great taste and crispness. Firming with lime is traditionally done by soaking fresh cucumbers in a lime-water solution before pickling them; during the soaking, the calcium hydroxide binds with the pectin in the cucumber making it stronger. Excess lime absorbed by the cucumbers must be removed by additional rinsing to make pickles safe; pickling lime raises the pH (more alkaline) and has been linked to botulism. Because calcium chloride does not have the hydroxide component of lime, it does not change the pH (acidity) of pickled food or pose a food safety risk. No soaking and rinsing is involved when calcium chloride is used. Rather, a small amount of the calcium chloride granules is added to each jar of pickles before sealing, following the manufacturer’s directions. (Calcium chloride should not be added to a vat during brining or fermentation of pickles.) 

Calcium chloride will not replace the crispness that is lost from fresh produce. That crispness comes from the vegetable’s natural pectin, so starting with fresh-picked, top-quality produce is best.

There are other uses for calcium chloride beyond pickle crispness. It is used by brewers, cheese- and wine-makers and has been found to improve the texture of canned apple slices, pears, and peaches. Consumers report using it when canning whole tomatoes to hold the tomatoes together. Calcium chloride may impart a bit of a salty taste but adds no sodium. 

Calcium Chloride products have an indefinite shelf life but are sensitive to moisture and will clump and become hard when exposed to humidity, so it is important to keep the granules as dry as possible; store the products tightly sealed in a cool, dry location.

Sources:

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

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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