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Can Like a Pro! (Canning & Preserving Foods)

September 29, 2014

Canning is a great way to preserve delicious fruits and veggies that are ripe during the summer months and allow us to enjoy our favorite produce year round. There are two basic methods for canning; water bath canning and pressure canning. Depending on what foods you are canning will determine the method you choose. Foods with high acid content such as citrus fruits, pickles, salsas, jams, and jellies (just to name a few), use the water bath method. Foods like vegetables and animal products, that pose a higher risk for sustaining microorganism life (which will result in foodborne illness), require pressure canning.

Water Bath Method: jars of food are heated while submerged in 1 to 2 inches of 212-degree boiling water and cooked for a given time (which depends on the food being canned). The water bath is created with a large cooking pot and tight lid over the stove. A special wire rack, wooden rack, or cotton dishtowels may be used to keep the jars from moving and bumping during boiling.

Pressure Canning Method: requires a pot that is specially made for canning. Each brand and type may be a slightly different large pot with at least a steam tight lid, pressure gauge/dial, and safety fuse. While more expensive, if you plan on canning low acidic foods this purchase is a food safety necessity. When you are dealing with foods that pose a higher risk for spreading food born illness you do not want to take any chances. In the pressure cooker, jars of food are heated in 2 to 3 inches of 240-degree water. This temperature must be reached in order to combat bacteria that can withstand typical boiling temperatures (1).

Following food safety precautions to prevent food born illness is absolutely essential when canning goods. The purpose of canning is to get rid of microorganisms that can cause food spoilage and make you sick. Here are some important safety tips to remember:

- Always use the appropriate canning method depending on the type of food you are using

- Older canning methods that have been deemed unsafe include: open-kettle canning, oven canning, and steam canning.

- Under no circumstance should you perform canning with a microwave or dishwasher for heating.

- Chemicals and or preserving powders are NOT replacements for appropriate heating temperatures.

- Do not use jars or cans that are not approved for safe canning. (Mason jars or Ball jars are considered the best jars for canning!)

- Do not re-use lids. Be sure to wash all jars, lids, and rings prior to use.

- Overripe and or foods that are potentially already spoiled should not be used for canning.

- Do not pack jars or cans too full as this may prevent the foods from heating evenly and reaching the correct temperature.

- Remember, short cuts and experimentation with canning are not worth the health risks (2-3).

While fresh fruits and vegetables are typically seen as the best source for optimal nutrient intake, actually consuming fruits and vegetables whether fresh, frozen, or canned is most important. Canning produce items may actually help boost some nutrients. A lot of research has looked at the effect of thermal heating and canning on nutrients. For instance, nutrients such as vitamin C are not heat stable and therefore, a majority of the vitamin C in fruits and vegetables is lost during canning. However, overall antioxidant activity is not lost. Certain phytochemicals, an antioxidant compounds found in some produce, are enhanced. For example, lycopene, a phytochemical whose claim to fame came with tomatoes, becomes more readily absorbed into the body after the canning process.

Canning fruits and or vegetables at their peak help preserve nutrients that would otherwise be lost entirely during off season harvest months (4-7). Purchasing fresh produce year round, though it seems natural to do so, is not generally recommended. The cost of "fresh" produce year round is much higher to pay for travel expenses. Additionally, produce is at its highest nutrient content upon picking; the longer it takes to travel to get to your grocery cart, the less nutrition you actually get. Along with canning, purchasing frozen vegetables is also recommended. These delicious food tips will not only mean more nutrition in your body, but more money in your wallet.

Happy Eating!

Alexandria Wolz, Cooperative Intern for:

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