Ask an Expert: 5 Tips for Failproof Home Preserving

Canning Tips Graphic

How can you be sure the food you have preserved at home and placed on food storage shelves is safe for your family to eat? USU Extension Professor Kathleen Riggs shares five tips to keep in mind when preserving food.

1- Proper temperature

  • Boiling water method – kills most molds and air-borne bacteria in high acid foods (E.g., fruits, fruit juices and pickles). Steam canners may be used in place of a boiling water bath under specified conditions.*
  • Steam under pressure method – kills anaerobic organisms like those that cause botulism in low acid foods (E.g., vegetables and meats).
  • Note that tomatoes may be processed in a water-bath canner with the addition of an acid such as vinegar or lemon/lime juice.


2- Correct amount of processing time

This is scientifically determined, and as altitude increases:

  • Boiling water – time must be increased.
  • Steam under pressure – pressure must be increased.


3- New jar lids with screw bands that seal properly

  • New two-piece metal lids with sealing compound are recommended.
  • Screw bands may be reused multiple times if free of corrosion and dents.
  • A good seal means lids have indented and cannot be removed easily.


4- Up-to-date, approved recipes

“Approved” doesn’t mean it is endorsed by a favorite friend or relative! Canning is a science; not an art. Therefore, only use recipes from the following sources:

  • USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning
  • National Center for Home Food Preservation (http://nchfp.uga.edu )
  • So Easy to Preserve (Published by University of Georgia Extension)
  • Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving


5- Current, approved food preservation methods

  • For canning, only two methods are approved:
    • Boiling water bath
    • Steam pressure canning
    • Steam canner- For high acid foods only and for 45 minutes or less processing time.*
  • Other approved methods of food preservation include dehydration, freezing and smoking/curing.


*For guidelines on using steam canners, contact your local USU Extension office or review the following article endorsed by USDA and the National Center for Home Food Preservation: https://www.clemson.edu/extension/food/canning/canning-tips/56atmospheric-steam-canners.html

This article was written by Kathleen Riggs, USU Extension Professor, kathleen.riggs@usu.edu.

Steam Canning Uncovered

Steam Canning Uncovered Graphic

Grandma used a steam canner all summer long, but you’ve heard they are not safe. Read up on what the latest research has to say about steam canning.

In recent decades, atmospheric steam canning has not been recommended for home food preservation. However, recent studies have been published that no longer condemn steam canners. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has published research confirming that atmospheric steam canners are acceptable to use for preserving naturally acidic foods, or acidified-foods such as salsas or pickle varieties. The research comes with assurances that this tool can be used, with conditions that need to be controlled first, such as the following:

High Acid

Foods must register at a pH of 4.6 or below. This includes fruits such as peaches, pears and apples. This method is not suitable for vegetables or meats that generally fall into lower-acid categories. It is not recommended to use a steam canner for tomatoes. The exception is for products such as salsa where additional acid is used.

Approved Recipe Use

A research-tested recipe must be used with the atmospheric steam canner. Approved recipes can be found on websites such as the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, and the National Center for Home Food Processing and Preservation: nchfp.uga.edu. Standard canning jars and two-piece lids are required. An atmospheric steam canner is approved for use with recipes approved for half-pint, pint or quart jars.  

Pure Steam at 212°F

Prior to processing, canners must be vented until a full plume of steam appears. A plume of steam approx. 8 inches coming from the sides of the canner should be visible throughout the entire processing time. When purchasing a steam canner, be aware of features such as a built-in temperature sensor in the lid. The canner should remain at a steady 212°F temperature.

Time is of the Essence

Processing time needs to be adjusted for elevation as required by a tested recipe. The USDA guide is a reliable resource to determine the amount of added processing time needed. With this in mind, processing times must be limited to 45 minutes or less. This includes time modifications for elevation. Time is limited due to the amount of water in the base of the canner. While food is processing, water should not be added. If the heat temperature is too high, water can boil dry before processing is complete, and this is deemed unsafe.

Jar Care

Jars must be heated before adding product or processing. It is important not to let much cooling occur prior to processing. After processing, jars should be placed on a rack or towel away from drafts and not force-cooled.

This article was written by Erin Floyd, Intern with USU Extension, and Mealanie D. Jewkes, Extension Associate Professor, Utah State University Salt Lake County Extension.

Source: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/steam_canners.html

You Can Can, But Can you Can Safely?

Can you Can?

Make sure you’re canning your food safely!

Three Simple Steps to Safe Canning

Preserving your own foods can save you money and is a great way to know what is in the foods you eat. It is important to follow the safest canning guidelines and use up-to-date equipment to ensure your product is safe.

1. Be sure to check the source of your recipe. Extensive research and testing have resulted in scientific-based guidelines, which are the safest. To ensure you are using a science-based resource, your recipe and guidelines should come from Utah State University Extension, The National Center for Home Food Preservation, University of Georgia or The Ball Blue Book. Information should have been released after 2009. No other sources, including recipes on the Internet, can be presumed safe.

2. Pressure canner gauges should be tested once a year. Low-acid foods should be canned using a pressure canner. Watch for pressure canner gauge testing by your local Extension office in your area.

3. Attend a class to ensure you are current on your canning techniques. Look for a MASTER FOOD PRESERVER Course in your area. This class is an in-depth series on food preservation for optimum food safety in all areas of food preservation including pressure canning, water bath canning, dehydrating, and freezing.

For more current information on canning and food preservation, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation online at nchfp.uga.edu or extension.usu.edu/canning.

This article was written by SuzAnne Jorgensen, FCS Extension Agent, Garfield County

Plan Today to Preserve Tomorrow

Plan to Preserve

Before you know it, you’ll be up to your ears in fresh garden pickin’s. Make sure you’re ready for the harvest so that you can enjoy every last bit of it!

Prepping For Your Preservation

With summer upon us, it’s time to plan for a great season of home food preservation. The first step is to assess your canning equipment and supplies to ensure they are in proper working condition to assure safe, high-quality preserved foods.

Canning Jars and Lids
Assess the amount and condition of your canning jars to determine if additional bottles are needed. It is recommended to only use Mason-type jars that are made specifically for home canning. Check the bottles for scratches, cracks, nicks or chips. Nicked or chipped bottle rims will not seal properly, and scratched bottles may cause cracking or breakage while processing, so it is best to dispose of those bottles. Bottles that are not made specifically for canning may break under high heat or pressure and may experience more seal failures. The same is true for very old Mason jars that have weakened over time.

Jars come in many sizes from half-pint to half-gallon, and it is important to use the jar size that is specified in a recipe. Half-gallon jars should only be used for canning very acidic juices such as apple juice or grape juice.

It is recommended to use two-piece flat metal lids and screwing bands for processing. The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning states that gaskets in unused lids work well for at least five years from the manufacturing date. Do not use old, used, dented or deformed lids, but the screw bands are reusable as long as they are not bent, dented or rusted.

Boiling Water Canners
Boiling water canners, or water bath canners, are used for canning high-acid foods such as fruits, pickles, jams/jellies and acidified tomatoes. Most water bath canners are designed to hold seven quart jars or eight to nine pint jars. These canners are made of aluminum or porcelain-coated steel with a removable rack and a lid.

A water bath canner should be deep enough to allow at least an inch or two of boiling water to cover the bottles during processing. Flat bottom water bath canners are recommended for electric ranges and the canner should be no more than 4-inches wider in diameter than the electric element to ensure uniform processing of all the jars in the canner. Flat or ridged-bottom canners can be used on gas burners.

Pressure Canners
Low-acid foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, vegetables and dried beans, must be processed in a pressure canner. There are two types of pressure canners: dial-gauge and weighted-gauge. The dial gauge on pressure canners should be checked for accuracy every year. Inaccurate gauges that read high may cause under-processing resulting in unsafe food, and low readings cause over-processing.

Every pound of pressure is very important to the temperature needed inside the canner for properly processed food. Gauges may be checked at local Extension offices. Weighted-gauges do not need to be checked for accuracy. For most altitudes in Utah, weighted-gauges must be operated at a canner pressure of 15 PSI.

Useful Tools
Helpful tools for home canning include a jar lifter to aid in removing hot jars from the canner. A bubble remover frees air bubbles from inside the jar to aid in maintaining a proper headspace. Some bubble removers have a headspace measurer on one end. A lid lifter is a tool with a magnet on the end to lift lids from hot water.

A very important tool to have for food preservation is using research-tested recipes. The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning has updated canning instructions. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (http://nchfp.uga.edu/) is another excellent source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. Most local Extension offices have current research-based information for safe home food preservation.

Proper planning now will help to ensure a successful canning season.

This article was written by Marie Anderson.

7 Factors That Prolong Your Food Storage Supply

Author – Carolyn Washburn, Extension Professor

Food Storage 2 Blog

Getting in the habit of storing food has many benefits. These benefits range from financial savings to having a balanced diet throughout the year. Above all, learning how you can get the most out of your food storage will help eliminate stress and ensure peace of mind.

Storing food is a traditional, domestic skill that has been used for thousands of years in time of plenty to prepare for times of famine or when food is in short supply. Wheat found stored in vessels in the tombs of Egypt was still edible after 4,000 years. Regularly, food is preserved and stored to be eaten from harvest to harvest as families strive to be self-sustaining. It is interesting to note that food is stored by almost every human society and by many animals. Maintaining a food supply often ensures savings of time and money and provides safety and security in time of need. Storing food has several main purposes:

  • Preserves harvested and processed food products for later use
  • Provides a balanced diet throughout the year
  • Prepares for catastrophes, emergencies and periods of food scarcity or famine
  • Religious reasons
  • Peace of mind
  • Provides self-sustainability

Factors that affect food storage:

Temperature: The temperature at which food is stored is very critical to shelf life. United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, states that for every 10.8 degrees in temperature rise you decrease the shelf life of stored food by half. The best range for food storage is a constant temperature between 40-60 degrees. Avoid freezing temperatures.

Moisture: It is recommended to remove moisture when storing foods. For long-term storage, foods should have a 10% or less moisture content.

Oxygen: Foods store best when oxygen free. Removing oxygen will prevent oxidation of compounds in foods. Ways to remove oxygen:

  • Displacing oxygen – Purge air from product with an inert gas (nitrogen). Dry ice is often used giving off carbon dioxide gas, which displaces oxygen.
  • Oxygen absorber – Air contains about 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, leaving about 1% for the other gasses. If the oxygen is absorbed, what remains is 99% pure nitrogen in a partial vacuum.

Light: This form of energy can degrade the value of foods. Store food in dark areas.

Container: Store foods in food-grade plastic, metal or glass containers indicating that the container does not contain chemicals that could be transferred to food and be harmful to your health. For best storage life, use containers with a hermetic (air tight) seal. Containers with air tight seals are:

  • #10 cans
  • Sealable food storage buckets
  • Sealable food quality metal (lined) or plastic drums
  • Foil pouches
  • PETE bottles (for dry products such as wheat, corn, and beans)

The containers listed above, used with oxygen absorber packets, eliminate food-borne insects and help preserve nutritional quality and taste.

Warning – Botulism poisoning may result if moist products are stored in packaging that reduces oxygen. When stored in airtight containers with oxygen absorbers, products must be dry (about 10% or less moisture content).

Infestation: Several common insects infest home-stored dried foods.   To control with cold treatment, put infested items in a deep freeze (0 degrees) for three to four days which will kill any live insects, larva and eggs.

Shelf date is the “best if used by” date, meaning that you are getting most of the original taste and nutrition. The “life sustaining shelf life” date means the length of time that food is still edible.

carolyn-washburnCarolyn Washburn is a family consumer sciences agent for Utah State University Extension. Her responsibilities include financial management education, food safety and nutrition, healthy family relations, emergency preparedness and working with youth. Her goal is to help individuals and families become self-sustaining and resilient by being financially prepared and healthy for any emergency. She serves on the National Disaster Education Network and has just completed the new food storage manual for USDA. Her most cherished award is America’s Promise, awarded by Colin Powell.

Vanilla and Its Uses During The Holidays

Author – Carolyn Washburn


Enhance the flavor of your favorite cooking recipes with the vanilla bean.

Vanilla flavoring is a desirable sweet flavor that is used in many recipes from cookies and candies to drinks. Vanilla comes as an extract, powder and paste. These forms of vanilla come from beans that are grown on an orchid plant. Growers pollinate the long pods and ferment them for about 6 months before harvesting. This laborious process results in the flavoring becoming one of the most expensive. To cook with vanilla beans, you simply split open the pod and scrape out the pulpy seeds inside.  Each pod will have tiny seeds that have a strong vanilla aroma.

An imitation vanilla extract is made from synthetic flavorings with alcohol and may not be quite as desirable as an authentic vanilla flavor.

Vanilla beans take on the flavor and aroma from where they are grown. The most common types of beans are grown primarily in Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti. The Madagascar bean (also known as a bourbon bean) is very thin and very rich in sweetness. The thick skin covers many small seeds that provide a strong vanilla aroma. This accounts for about 80 percent of most vanilla extract. The Mexican bean is not as thin or sweet as the Madagascar bean. This bean has an earthy aroma and is more mellow in flavor. The Tahiti bean is plumper in size, darker in color and the least sweet of the beans. The perfect vanilla bean is 5 to 7 inches long and should feel moist and supple (not dry and brittle) when rolled between your fingers.

Fresh vanilla beans can be used in cooking as well as in making vanilla extract. One 2-inch piece of vanilla bean = 1 tsp. extract. Vanilla beans are made into an extract which is aged from 2 to 6 months and contains a minimum of 35 percent alcohol.

Vanilla beans will dry out and become brittle if left out in the air, so wrap them in foil, seal them in a zip-top bag and store them in a cool, dark area. They’ll last this way for at least several months.

Enjoy the flavor and aroma of the fresh vanilla bean!

Vanilla Bean Custard
2 cups milk
2 vanilla bean pods
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch

Bring milk to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the vanilla beans from the bean pod (split the pod and scrape them out with the tip of a knife).

In a bowl whisk together the sugar, eggs, yolks and cornstarch until smooth. Slowly add about half of the milk to the egg mixture and then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan containing the rest of the milk. Don’t heat the eggs too quickly or you will  have scrambled eggs in your custard.

Place the pan over medium heat and whisk well, making sure you get in the corners of the pan, until it comes to a boil and thickens. Cool, cover and store in the fridge.

carolyn-washburnCarolyn Washburn is a family consumer sciences agent for Utah State University Extension. Her responsibilities include financial management education, food safety and nutrition, healthy family relations, emergency preparedness and working with youth. Her goal is to help individuals and families become self-sustaining and resilient by being financially prepared and healthy for any emergency. She serves on the National Disaster Education Network and has just completed the new food storage manual for USDA. Her most cherished award is America’s Promise, awarded by Colin Powell.

Oh Deer! How Do You Preserve Wild Game?

Author – Margie Memmott

Oh Deer! How Do You Preserve Wild Game? | Live Well Utah

So you’ve just had a successful hunt with enough meat to feed your family for the entire year.  Now make sure all your hard work pays off and that your meat is safe to use later. Whether you want to freeze, can or dry and jerky your hunt, follow these steps and do it right.

Click here to download the USU Extension Pamphlet: How to Properly Preserve Venison. We will teach you the methods of selecting and preparing, freezing, canning, making sausage, drying and storing venison.
margie-memmottMargie Memmott has been serving families and communities for more than 20 years with USU Extension in Juab County. Margie earned degrees in family and consumer sciences from BYU and USU and loves to teach youth and adults valuable life skills. “What a great reward when others adopt these principles and apply the tools to improve their everyday lives.”  Margie and her husband Sam have four sons, three daughters-in-law and two grandsons. In her spare time she enjoys creative textiles/sewing, crocheting, music, technology, four wheeling in the ‘RZR’ and most of all, being with her family.

Reminder of Home Canning No-No’s

Author – Kathy Riggs

Reminder of Home Canning No-No's | Live Well Utah

Tomatoes are ripening on a regular basis, corn is about ready to harvest and beets are ready to pick and process…yesterday. So, as home food preservation gets underway in force, there are a few reminders of how to avoid common canning mistakes and some of the limitations of home canning.

Major Canning Mistakes – Potentially Deadly

*Making up your own canning recipe. Without scientific testing, you will not know how long the product needs to be processed to be safe—this includes salsas.

*Adding EXTRA starch, flour or other thickener to recipe. This will slow the rate of heat penetration into the product and can result in under cooking.

*Adding EXTRA onions, chilies, bell peppers or other vegetables to salsas. The extra vegetables dilute the acidity and can result in botulism poisoning.

*Using an oven instead of water bath for processing. The product will be under processed since air is not as good a conductor of heat as water or steam. The jars also may break or explode.

*Not making altitude adjustments. Since boiling temperatures are lower at higher altitudes, the products will be under processed. Pressure canning requires adding more pounds of pressure while water bath canning requires more processing time.

*Not venting pressure canner. Lack of venting can result in air pockets (cold spots) which will not reach as high a temperature as needed.

*Failure to acidify canned tomatoes. Not all tomatoes have an adequate acid level (pH), especially if the vine is dead when tomatoes are harvested. This can result in botulism poisoning. Make certain to use bottled lemon juice, which has a standard 4.5 acid level. The acid level of fresh lemons can vary.

Minor Canning Mistakes – Economic Loss, But Results Not Deadly

*Use of mayonnaise jars. The thinner walls of the glass may break, especially if used in a pressure canner, and it may be more difficult to obtain a good seal. However, if it seals, it is safe to use.

*Use of paraffin on jams and jellies. Small air holes in the paraffin may allow mold to grow. Also, paraffin can catch on fire if overheated during preparation. If preserves do have mold growth, the recommendation is not to eat the product, but discard it.

*Cooling too slowly after removing from canner. (Example: stacked jars close together.) There is a group of harmless organisms called thermophiles that can survive canning. If bottles are held hot for long periods, they can produce acid (fermentation). This results in the defect known as “flatsour.” This is harmless, but produces an undesirable flavor.

Cautions Issued for Specific Foods

  • Butter — For now, canning butter using any method is not recommended. Some methods are dangerous at best; others are not backed by science.
  • Hydrated wheat kernels (berries) — Starch in wheat may interfere with the heat penetration during canning. Insufficient processing can result in botulism food poisoning. Wheat should be stored dry until used or refrigerated up to several days if hydrated for use in the near future.
  • Quick Breads (e.g., banana, zucchini, pumpkin) — Baking quick breads in canning jars and then placing a lid and ring on the jar to create a vacuum seal as it cools does not kill botulism-forming  organisms that grow in warm, moist, anaerobic conditions. These items should be either baked fresh and served or frozen.
  • Dried Beans (pinto, kidney, etc.) — To safely can dried beans, they must be hydrated first (usually 12 to 18 hours) and then brought to a boil for 30 min. Hot beans are then placed into hot jars for processing.

General Rules

  1. Always use up-to-date, scientifically tested canning recipes.
  2. Only use approved, up-to-date canning methods (boiling water bath or pressure).
  3. Follow canning directions exactly.

Of course there are more instructions for successful and safe home food preservation. For answers to specific questions, please contact your local USU Extension office or see the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at http://nchfp.uga.edu/ which is a clearinghouse for USDA canning guidelines and recipes.

Kathleen Riggs is the Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor for Iron County. She loves yard/garden work, where  her favorite tasks are weeding and mowing the lawn. Her favorite appliance is the microwave oven, and her specialty is microwave caramels. She loves family time and occasions that bring everyone together from near or far.

Avoid Contamination: Where to go for safe canning recipes

Author: Melanie Jewkes

If I gave you a delicious-looking hamburger, complete with all your favorite condiments, and told you I couldn’t guarantee it had been cooked long enough, would you eat it?

Safe Resources for Canning

I’m guessing you would probably pass and choose not to eat it. Why? Because eating raw meat posses a risk. We know from scientific studies that raw ground hamburger can contain bacteria called E. coli, which can make anyone sick and can be life threatening for young children and older adults. Does this mean we shouldn’t eat ground hamburger? No, because scientific studies have also shown that if ground meat is cooked until a meat thermometer shows 160 F, then bacteria is killed, providing a safe food product. There is no need to avoid eating ground hamburger—the real answer to concerns about the safety of cooked meat is following the USDA scientific guidelines

So it is with canning. The process of preparing food and sealing it in jars for a long shelf life is a scientific process. Rigorous and thorough studies in USDA-endorsed laboratories have already determined what is needed to protect your home-bottled goods from going bad and from becoming contaminated. When these scientific processes are not followed accurately, the canned goods pose a risk similar to that of undercooked meat. Canned goods not processed accurately could have a poor quality, could spoil quickly or could contain a toxin that is taste-less, odor-less, and cannot been seen with the naked human eye. This toxin grows from a germ called Clostridium botulinum, which causes the potentially deadly illness botulism. Botulism is rare, but scientific studies have proven proper processing procedures, including time and temperature, to kill the germ before it grows to a toxin.

What’s the secret to safe home-bottled goods? Follow safe scientific canning guidelines.

Two clear glass jars of colorful pickled vegetables

Be aware that a simple Internet or pinterest search for a canning recipe is NOT the safest way to find a recipe to preserve your food. Be sure to only use recipes and procedures that are scientifically studied and USDA approved.
Canning is not cooking—it is a scientific process that must be followed accurately to ensure safety.
Look for canning information at the resources listed.






  • The Ball Canning Company: Blue Book of Preserving and the Home Canner’s Help Line: 1-800-240-3340


Remember to read canning recipes with caution. Look for a scientific source. If you have questions or concerns, contact your local Extension office.

Jewkes, Melanie

Melanie Jewkes works part time in Salt Lake County and has worked for USU for 6 years. The best part of her job is learning and relearning some of the things that matter most–loving and caring for marriage and family, living within your means, and growing, cooking and eating delicious, nutritious food. She is married with two adorable children and lives in Taylorsville.