Preserve summer's produce safely

There are many ways to preserve the fresh, local produce from the summer. Stay up-to-date with preservation methods to enjoy summer throughout the year.

Summer days at farmers markets; local, fresh picked fruits and vegetables – do you have the knowledge to safely preserve the year’s bounty?

There are many ways to preserve foods and we all need to figure out what is right for our lifestyles. Do we have the tools and means to pressure can green beans? Can we freeze our peaches, or should we hot water bath them? Is drying an option? Here’s a quick explanation of why there are so many ways to “put up” foods for future use.

Fruits contain enough natural acidic component so they can be canned by the boiling water bath method, which heats to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If a food has a pH of 4.6 or lower (higher acid), it can be processed at the lower temperature of a boiling water bath. If you are unsure of a foods acidity, you can look on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Complete Guide to Home Canning or contact your local county Extension office. Research provides us with many recipes we can use to make jams and jellies, whole or sliced fruits, pickles and relishes, and salsa in a boiling water bath. However, we can’t just put the ingredients into jars and process. There are steps to be taken to ensure a safe product. Like baking a cake from scratch, recipes should be used for food preservation. Find a research-based recipe to be sure your ingredients, processing type and times are safe.

Every vegetable must be processed with a pressure canner, which gets to 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Beans, rutabagas, carrots, squash, corn, peppers and turnips need to be processed with pressure to ensure a safe product. Vegetables have a pH of over 4.6 and need the extra temperatures that pressure canning provide. That extra temperature, for the required amount of time, ensures your processed food will be safe to eat. Don’t rely on your grandma’s recipe – research has shown that old recipes and processes may not be safe. If you don’t have access to a pressure canner, you may want to blanch and freeze vegetables.

Freezing is relatively easy to do and can be done (more than likely) with equipment you already have. Enzymes in foods need to be inactivated; blanching needs to be done. Blanching by steam or water also destroy microorganisms on the food. Of course, if you don’t own or have access to a freezer, this may not be the best option for preserving foods.

Drying is also an option for keeping foods. In Michigan’s humid weather, it is more reliable to dry using a food dehydrator to get the moisture out of the food. If moisture remains, the food can mold and have bacterial growth that can make you ill. Dried foods are much lighter and smaller than fresh foods, so require less room to store. They can be rehydrated for cooking or consumed dry.

If you are interested in information on home food preservation or food safety, you can contact your local Extension office or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464). Food Safety educators are working throughout the state to bring classes to you – look for a class near you at For $10, Michigan State University Extension now offers a Home Food Preservation Online course, which participants can complete from the comfort of their own home. Register online today to start preserving the summer’s bounty of fresh produce.

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