Canning at home in a boiling water bath canner or pressure canner is the best way to preserve all your hard work in the garden each year. It’s also an easy way to support local growers and eat local all year long- even in the winter. Unfortunately, many home canners make canning mistakes that can cost them their time, money, and their health. Below you will find 12 of the most common canning mistakes made by beginning home canners. Are you making any of them?
Are You Making These Canning Mistakes?
Mistake #1: Canning Low Acid Foods in a Boiling Water Canner
This is the most dangerous mistake you can make when it comes to preserving your food. Only foods that are acidic- such as pickles, sweet fruits, and tomatoes with added acids- can be safely canned in a boiling water bath canner. All others foods must be canned in a pressure canner in order to be safe from the risk of botulism.
Mistake #2: Not Paying Attention to Headspace
Each home canning recipe should tell you a headspace measurement- usually 1/4 to 1/2 an inch. This is really important for you to follow. During the canning process the foods will swell inside the jars, so if you have overfilled your jars the contents will start to leak out creating sticky jars and prevent the lids from creating a seal with the rim of the jar. Underfilling your jars will leave too much oxygen in the jars and can also prevent a good seal. Most canning sets come with a nifty little tool to help you measure your headspace accurately.
Mistake #3: Ignoring Air Bubbles
Air bubbles in your jars will affect the headspace we just talked about. If you don’t pop them before placing your jars in the canner they will be pulled out during the processing time and will result in the contents or liquid level of you jars being lower than expected when they come out of the canner. That same nifty measuring device in your canning sets doubles as a bubble popper, so run it through your jars before placing the lids on top.
Mistake #4: Leaving the Rims Dirty
Once your jars are filled and the bubbles popped you need to wipe the rim using a clean cloths. This removes any contents or residues that are on the rim of the jars. Skipping this step will prevent a good seal on your jars- which means wasted time for your or spoiled food later on.
Mistake #5: Not Filling the Canner with Enough Water
In a boiling water canner the water level must be 1 or 2 inches above the jars. The whole point of processing them in a boiling water bath is to heat the contents of the jars to a high enough temperature that all botulism spores or bacteria are killed. Covering the jars with enough water ensure that the the contents of the jars are heated evenly from all sides.
Mistake #6: Reusing One-Use Canning Lids
Unless you are using lids that are specifically marked as reusable (such as Tattler) they are only one use lids. On the underside of each lid is an adhesive ring that wears out with use and they are only safe for one use. Again reusing them will create an unsafe or failed seal. Feel free to keep the lids for other uses and storage, but don’t count on them for canning. On the flip side, reusable lids are a bit different in how they work, so read the directions well if you are using them for the first time.
Mistake #7: Rapid Temperature Changes
While this isn’t necessarily a safety issue, it will cause a lot of wasted time on your part. If you place a jar filled with piping hot contents into a pot of cold water, it will break. Same goes for dropping a cold jar into boiling water. You really don’t want busted jars in your canner- not only is is messy but you will have wasted your time prepping and wasted your ingredients.
Mistake #8: Using Jars Not Intended for Canning
Canning jars are specifically made to withstand the heat and pressure of canning. Not all jars are created equal. Don’t reuse jars from grocery store products like spaghetti sauce, mayo, or pickles. Also be sure to check the condition of your jars before you can each year. Check for scratches, cracks, or chips. Jars with these should not longer be used for canning.
Mistake #9: Not Adjusting for Altitude
Each canning recipe will tell you a processing time for your jars. The time will change based on the contents and the size of the jars. The processing times will also be different if you live at an altitude of 1000ft above sea level or higher. If you live at a higher altitude you will need to increase your processing time (water bath) or pounds of pressure (pressure canner).
Mistake #10: Not Following Directions
I know a lot of cooks that like to bake without a recipe, adding a little of this and a little of that until it comes out just right. Canning is one instance where that is not a good idea. Use tested recipes from trusted sources- such as the Ball Complete Guide to Home Preserving– to ensure the safety of your final product. For example adding extra onions and peppers to canned salsa can result in a lower acidity, which in turn can put your product at risk for botulism. Pay attention to all that your recipe tells you- the amounts, the processing time, the headspace to make sure your finished product is shelf stable.
Mistake #11: Using Inferior Produce
I am sure you’ve heard the saying You get what you pay for. This goes for canning to the quality of your finished product depends on the quality of the produce you put in. Old, softening cucumbers will not result in crispy pickles. Unripe fruits will not result in a ripe canned product. Use your best produce for canning and use the imperfect fruits for fresh eating.
Mistake #12: Not Sterilizing Properly
This final canning mistake is another big one for safety. Before you begin you want to sterilize everything- the jars, the lids, the rings, the tools, your surface. Anything that will come into contact with your jars and contents before they are capped and placed in the canner. You don’t want to risk introducing anything unsafe to your canned goods. The dishwasher does a good job of sterilizing jars- and if done just before you begin, you will also have nice warm jars to fill with hot contents (to prevent mistake # 7). A pot of simmering water does well for lids and rims. Don’t take chances- it’s better to be too clean than not enough.
So, are you making any of these canning mistakes? Do you have any questions or concerns when it comes to canning at home? Leave a comment and let me know!
© 2016, Sarah R Toney. All rights reserved.