Spring is on its way – prepare for food preservation

It is never too early to start planning for your summer home-preserved foods.

Tomato plants.
Photo: Alexei/Pixabay.

After another long Michigan winter, the days continue to grow longer and we see the sunshine more often, and home gardeners are starting to plan for growing fresh Michigan summer produce. Whether you grow your own garden or purchase Michigan fresh produce, if you will be preserving the bounty of summer fruits and vegetables this year, now is the time to start planning.

Spring is the time to evaluate your canning equipment and supplies. Updated, maintained and safe equipment is critical for the success and safety of your home-preserved foods. Also, equally important for preserving food at home are research-based, updated home food preservation recipes.

Begin by thinking about what types of foods you would like to preserve – fruits, vegetables, salsa or meat? Next, look for research-based, updated recipes, which are absolutely critical to the safety of the food you preserve. It is recommended to only use recipes from reliable sources that have been tested for safety.

Food preservation fact sheets are available at MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh or the National Center for Home Food Preservation websites. Other research-based sources include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015) or University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service’s So Easy to Preserve, a comprehensive home food preservation book.

The equipment needed for food preservation is different depending on the food you will be preserving. A pressure canner is an absolute must for canning low-acid vegetables, meats, fish and poultry. One type of pressure canner has a dial gauge to indicate the pressure inside the canner; the other has a metal weighted gauge. Dial gauges must be tested for accuracy before each canning season. For information on testing a dial gauge, call your local MSU Extension office. With pressure canners, also check the rubber gasket to see if your canner has one; it should be flexible and soft, not brittle, sticky or cracked. A water bath canner is used for canning high-acid foods such as fruits, pickles, acidified tomatoes, salsa, jellies and jams.

When assessing your canning supplies, follow these tips:

  • Determine if you need to purchase new jars for this year’s canning.
  • Inspect the jars you have in storage for nicks, cracks or chips, especially around the top sealing edge. Chips and nicks can prevent lids from sealing.
  • Older jars can weaken with age and repeated use by breaking under pressure and heat during the canning process. Consider investing in new jars. New jars are a better investment over time than buying used jars at yard sales or resale markets.
  • Only use Mason-type jars specifically designed for home canning.
  • Jars that use two-piece self-sealing metal lids are recommended by the USDA's home canning guidelines.
  • It is not recommended to use other miscellaneous jars found around your home. They are not safe for home canning food.
  • An essential for every canning season is new flat lids. Used lids should be thrown away.
  • Metal screw bands/rings are reusable if they are not bent, dented or rusted.

Having a plan for preserving now will have you ready to go when preserving time arrives. For more information, visit MSU Extension's Food Preservation website.

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