Q. My grandmother canned anything and everything. We never had any problems with anything from her food storage, so why all this concern about high acid and low acid?
A. Actually, and she wouldn't have been aware of it, but your grandmother was taking a chance with certain foods. It all has to do with microorganisms. These are easily destroyed by heat when acid is present, making the temperatures achieved by boiling water sufficient to destroy these dangerous organisms. Thus, foods such as fruit and fruit juices, jellies, jams, pickles and pickled products, which are all high acid foods, can enter your food storage program using standard canning methods. In low acid foods, however, temperatures higher than 212º F (100ºC) are required to eradicate all such dangers. It is true that most dangerous microorganisms would be destroyed, but some might escape. The spores of Clostridium botulinum, for instance, can survive temperatures below 240º F. That's not to say that these spores will always be present in low acid foods that have been "preserved" by standard canning methods, but the possibility will exist. As always, care needs to be taken in achieving safe food storage.
Q. What about older recipes? Can I still use them?
A. Unfortunately, any canning recipe older than 1990 is going to be suspect. Many methods and much of the equipment that were once considered safe do not meet the safety standards that modern research has established, and consequently should not be used in your current food storage program. You would be well advised to follow tested recipes and procedures such as those outlined by the USDA and other qualified agencies and organizations.
Q. What equipment is now considered no longer safe?
A. Do not open-kettle can. Do not oven can. Do not can in the microwave or dishwasher. Do not use jars, cans, or lids that were not specifically designed for home canning. You want a food storage that you can safely rely upon, and none of these procedures and products will give you that assurance.
Q. Store-It Foods carries the Victorio steam canner as well as the standard water bath canner. Are both of those considered safe to use for food storage?
A. As far as the water bath canner is concerned, the answer is an unqualified "yes" as long as proper guidelines are followed. The answer is not so clear when it comes to the steam canner. Victorio is proud of its products, and feels confident that all can be safely put to use. The USDA, however, is not yet prepared to echo that endorsement. The USDA does not recommend the use of steam canners for canning acid foods, not because they have been proven unsafe, but because of a lack of data demonstrating that the use of flowing steam in home canning is safe. They feel more research is required before they can put their seal of approval on the steam canner as a food storage tool.
Q. Can I at least reuse my jars?
A. If they meet current standards, you can indeed recycle your jars as a part of your food storage program. Watch, however, for small nicks or chips in the rims. Those could adversely affect sealing. As well, leave the lids out of that recycling process. The sealing compound that makes up the "ring" on the lids is not designed for reuse.
Q. If something does not seal can I try again?
A. Canned food can safely be reprocessed if the unsealed jar is discovered promptly. Try to discover the reason for the failed sealing - nicks, flaws, etc. Change the jar; if necessary, and definitely replace the lid and reprocess using the same processing time. If the unsealed jar is discovered after some time has passed, it is best to remove that item from your food storage.
Q. May I still use wax and paraffin seals on my jams and jellies?
A. This can be successful, but these methods are no longer recommended. Aside from being tedious to do properly, such seals are fragile and prone to imperfections.
Q. Why can't I fill my jars right to the brim?
A. You need what is called "headspace." This small pocket of air is there to assure a proper vacuum seal. Air expands and is driven out during the heating process. As the food cools, the air contracts, which results in that sealing taking place. Without the seal, you have prepared that jar for food storage space in the refrigerator rather than for food storage space in your pantry.
Q. Where can I get more information about canning?
A. Information is plentiful. Recipes and such abound on the Internet, and most recipe books currently on sale at your local bookstore will be of great help. We might also recommend you take a look at the FAQ page for our All-American Pressure Canners, and check out some of the links provided on the Links page of the Store-It site. Don't worry, there is information galore to assist you with your food storage.