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It’s that time of year when gardeners harvest their bounty and begin the process of preserving those foods to enjoy throughout the coming year. With a host of online videos available on Tik Tok and YouTube, it’s tricky weeding out fact from fiction when it comes to food safety. Gina Taylor, WVU Extension Service Family and Community Development Agent, debunks a few of these widely circulated myths and provides expert advice on safely preserving your food.
Myth: My grandmother used to just let her jars seal on the countertop, and they sealed every time. So, I know it’s a safe way to preserve my food.
“Open kettle canning is a dangerous practice. In open kettle canning, food is cooked in an ordinary pot (or kettle), then packed into hot jars and sealed without processing. Many recipes passed down through the years or found in older cookbooks do not include instructions for processing. The foods are usually canned by the open kettle method, sealed and stored.”
“Foods prepared in this manner present a serious health risk – particularly with regard to low-acid foods (vegetables, meat, seafood, poultry). All foods should be canned using a boiling water bath canner or a pressure canner, depending on the level of acid in the foods.”
“Low-acid foods that are not canned properly, can present a risk for botulism, a rare but serious condition that attacks the body’s nerves and can lead to difficulty breathing or even death. In the case of botulism, canned foods only become dangerous after the lids seal because botulism grows best in a low- or no-oxygen environment. That is why it is very important to get your canner up to the proper temperature (240°F) to destroy the bacteria. This high temperature is only possible in a pressure canner because regular boiling water only reaches 212° F.”
“Low-acid foods such as vegetables, some tomatoes, meats, seafood and poultry should always be processed in a pressure canner to reach the temperature required to destroy food-poisoning organisms (240° F). High-acid foods such as fruits, fruit juices, some tomatoes, soft spreads, pickles and salsas may be canned using a boiling water bath canner.”
Myth: Food in unsealed jars is still safe to eat.
“Canning takes some time and effort, and one of the most frustrating parts of canning is when a few jars don’t seal. What should you do when a few jars don’t seal? Throw the contents away? Not necessarily. Unsealed jars can be re-canned if they are discovered within 24 hours.”
“To re-can unsealed jars, simply remove the lid and check the jar sealing surface for tiny nicks. Change the jar, if necessary. With two-piece metal lids, use a new prepared flat lid. Reprocess the jar(s) using the same processing time described in your recipe.”
“Lids should not be used a second time since the sealing compound becomes indented by the first use, preventing another airtight seal. Screw bands may be reused unless they are badly rusted, or the top edge is pried up, which would prevent a proper seal.”
Myth: The green beans I put in a boiling water bath canner are safe to eat because I boil the jars longer than recommended.
“Green beans are a low-acid food and must be canned in a pressure canner to eliminate the growth of the bacteria clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism, a rare but sometimes deadly illness.”
“Simply extending the canning time in a boiling water bath canner is not enough to destroy deadly bacteria. Green beans must be canned at a temperature of 240° F, which can only be achieved using a pressure canner.”
“When canning green beans, select filled but tender, crisp pods. Wash beans and trim the ends. Leave the beans whole or cut/snap into 1-inch pieces. Hot pack or raw pack beans into jars, add salt (if desired) and cover with boiling water. Adjust lids and process in a pressure canner (there is no safe option for processing green beans in a boiling water canner). Process pints on 11 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes. Process quarts on 11 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes. Pressures may vary depending on altitude.”—Gina Taylor, professor and WVU Extension Service Family and Community Development agent -- Jackson County