Canning Safety

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Canning safety is an important part of home canning. Caution should be used to avoid injuries and illness. There are basically four areas of safety that you should always take into consideration. Food spoilage, burns and scalds, broken jars and cuts, and lifting injuries.

All this said, I'm not presenting this information to scare anyone away from canning their own food.  On the contrary, I'm trying to inspire you to can and preserve your own food, but I'd be remiss in my responsibilities if I didn't at least present this information as a caution.

Follow the proper procedures and you shouldn't have any problems at all.

Remember also to keep the youngest children out of the kitchen while you are canning. It's always a good idea to let the older kids watch and help you with canning, once they are old enough to completely understand the concept of "this is hot".

Canning Safety - Food Spoilage

When proper care is not taken during canning, food can spoil. Spoiled food can induce some pretty serious reactions in the human body. Food poisoning is, at the least a sickening experience, and at the worst can be deadly.

In the last few years, there have been many stories in the news about contaminated foods, including the outbreak of salmonella from tainted peanuts and the recall of hundreds of suspect products. This is a stark illustration of the dangers of poorly handled and poorly prepared foods.

With home canning, following proper procedures can minimize any risk of food contamination. In fact, properly done, home canning is probably safer than any commercial canning operation, because YOU control the process from start to finish.

1 - Clean all equipment and canning jars before you start. Wash everything with hot soapy water and rinse with hotter water. This assures a clean sterile starting point.

2 - Assure that all plant products are fresh and any bad places are cut away before canning. assuring freshness and proper handling of meats for canning is doubly important.

Always use the freshest product & meats you can find.  Of course, growing your own is best!

3 - Follow proper canning procedures. If the recipe calls for pressure canning - follow pressure canning, not boiling water bath. Assure that you reach and maintain the proper pressure, for at least the designated amount of time. If the pressure falls off more than a pound, return to proper pressure and restart the timing process. If the recipe calls for 40 minutes at 10 PSI and at 20 minutes the pressure drops to 8 psi, increase heat to return to 10 psi, and start over for the full 40 minutes.

4 - Assure that all canning jars seal. If a jar doesn't seal, you can refrigerate and still eat the contents within a few days.

Start with clean supplies and fresh foods, and process it at the correct pressure and time. This assures that the food is sterile coming out of the canner. Make sure that the jars seal. this assures that the food maintains it's sterility over time. If jars are sealed, contaminants can't get in later.

Canning Safety - Burns & Scalds

One of the most important aspects of canning safety is to always remember that you are working with extremely hot material, and that you can get severe burns if you don't follow proper precautions.

Be careful when hot packing foods into jars for canning. Large pieces can cause splashing. Hot jellies and jams in particular can cause pretty bad burns, because it tends to stick fast to your skin.

Placing jars into and taking them out of the canner is another place that burns can occur. Don't try to put jars in with your bare hands, and don't try to take them out using hot pads or pot holders. Use a jar lifter. If you don't have one, get one, they're not that expensive, and are designed specifically to grip and hold a hot wet canning jar.

Hot! Hot! Hot!  Be careful handling hot canning supplies and freshly canned goods.

A very important area of caution is when removing the lid from a pressure canner. make sure that the pressure has returned to zero and fully vent the canner before removing the lid. Even then, a blast of very hot steam will escape from the canner. Keep your arms to the side, and your face back when lifting the lid off of a canner.

Another note - be careful to read the instructions on your pressure canner before you ever use it. Make sure that you know how to put the lid on correctly.

There are stories out there of old canners "blowing up", but it seems that most of these stories (if not all), are actually caused by the lid not being properly installed and sealed.

Make sure to remove and clean the gasket in your canner lid after each use. An occasional light application of vegetable oil with a paper towel or soft cloth helps prevent drying out, and makes for an easier seal.

Canning Safety - Broken Jars & Cuts

Always check both new and used canning jars for flaws (folds), scratches and chips. If you have any doubt about a jar, don't use it. Although it's rare, damaged or flawed jars can break while under pressure in the canner, when being removed from the canner, or even when during washing. Inspect all jars before each use.

The Jar below appeared to be sound, but the entire bottom broke out while washing...

A cracked then subsequently, broken canning jar

Cold pack canning of nearly all vegetables and fruits require pouring boiling water over the produce in the canning jars before placing them in the canner. 

When canning meats however, you don't add any water, and the jars are completely cold, so bring your canner water to a boil only AFTER placing the closed canning jars in the canner. 

The photo below shows the cut that occurred when the above jar broke...

A deep cut with several sutures from a broken canning jar

Placing closed cold jars into a boiling bath or canner will cause a thermal shock that can cause the jars to crack, or even burst.  Aside from the waste of good hard earned food, there are serious cut risks.

Be wary of jars that don't seal, as they can occasionally appear sound but can still be cracked.  Inspect them closely before emptying and ESPECIALLY washing them.

Canning Safety - Lifting Injuries

A full pressure canner, a case of full canning jars, and a bushel of tomatoes all have one thing in common. They're heavy! Use proper lifting techniques when moving these items. Keep your back straight and lift with your legs. Better yet, if you aren't sure you can lift any of these things comfortably, get some help or move a few tomatoes or canning jars at a time.

A canner full of canning jasr of any food can be quite heavy, and awkward to handle.

A damaged or injured back can cause a lifetime of pain. Don't take the chances. If you have a glass top stove, read the owners manual to see how much weight it is designed to hold. Make sure that it can bear the weight of a full pressure canner. This can have a deciding factor in determining how big a canner you should buy.

After a couple of trials of home canning, proper canning safety methods will likely become second nature to you. Assure the sterility of your equipment, use only fresh produce and meats, and follow proper canning procedures to avoid food spoilage. Use common sense to avoid burns and scalds.  Finally use proper lifting techniques or get help when moving heavy items.

If you follow these basic guidelines, home canning can be an enjoyable experience that can provide you and your family with low cost, high quality, highly nutritious foods that will help control your food budget and increase your self sufficiency.  Canning safety is no joke - take it seriously!

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Related Topics:

Home Canning

Canning Basics

Glass Canning Jars

Pressure Canning

Boiling Water Canning