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Ask an Expert // Which preservation method should I use?

preserve foodInterested in food preservation, but not sure where to start? Here’s a great overview of the different methods for preserving food. Which one is right for you?


There are many ways to preserve food beyond the traditional bottling most people consider “canning.” All of the methods help you take advantage of seasonal abundance or food market sales.  Here are the Big Four, soon to become the Big Five, with pros and cons attached to help you make your decision

1. Freezing

Advantages: Freezing yields the freshest taste, and has the highest nutrition retention.

Disadvantages: In most cases, product must be thawed or cooked before use. Fruit can be limp when thawed. This can be overcome by serving fruits when still half-frozen.

Level of Preparation Difficulty: Easy— vegetables typically need to be blanched before freezing for highest quality. In most cases you simply put the product in a bag, label it, and put it in the freezer.

Cost: A freezer is a major expense, but they last a long time. Otherwise, cost is minimal: freezer bags or containers and electricity.

Storage time: For best quality, use frozen foods within three to six months. Frozen food is safe to eat as long as it is frozen.

Important food safety note: Freezing does not kill any bacteria, the cold temperature only keeps the bacteria from growing. When frozen product thaws, bacteria starts growing again.

2. Dehydrating (Drying)

Advantages: Dehydrated foods are lightweight, and don’t take up much storage space, making great packable snacks or meals. Home dehydrated foods are healthier than many packaged snacks because they don’t have commercial additives. Dehydrating yourself is cheaper than buying commercially dried fruits and vegetables.

Disadvantages: Lowest nutrition retention of food preservation methods—but still healthier than a store-bought snack. Product shrinks down, which makes for easy storage, but also appears to have a small yield because of that. Rehydrating a dried product does not mean the produce rehydrates to the level of fresh. It will be chewier than a fresh product.

Level of preparation difficulty: Easy— children love to dehydrate. Produce needs to be sliced around 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick.  Most vegetables (excluding peppers and onions) need to be blanched prior to dehydrating for best results.

Cost: Usually under $100 for a small electric dehydrator—at garage sales, even less.  Make sure to wash and sanitize a used dehydrator.

Storage time: Product is best when used within 6 months to a year, and is safe for longer if it is kept dry. Dehydrated products will mold if not kept dry.

Food Safety Note: Dehydrating is like freezing, it does not kill bacteria. It merely puts the bacteria in a state too dry to reproduce.

3. Boiling Water Bath Canning

Advantages:  Foods preserved in a boiling water bath canner do not need refrigeration, and can be used directly out of the jar. This method yields good nutrition retention, fresh taste, and is easy to use in cooking and food preparation. This is what most people think of when considering “canning.” Useful for fruits, pickled products, salsas, jams and jellies.

Disadvantages: This food preservation method can only be used for high acid fruits, jams and jellies, or pickles. It requires both the preparation time and processing time in the water bath canner.

Level of preparation difficulty: Moderate. Follow a research-based USDA or Extension recipe for safety and best results. See http://nchfp.uga.edu/  for online instructions and recipes.

Cost: You will need a  3- 5 gallon stock pot with a lid that allows for a trivet to keep the jars from direct contact with the bottom of the pan, and is deep enough to cover the jars with 2 inches of water above the jars. Commercial canners are around $30 – $40. Electric water bath canners are available for around $130. Canning jars are between $8 to $10 per dozen, although garage sales often have canning jars for cheaper. Only real canning jars (Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, Mason are typical brands) can be used: Salad dressing or mayonnaise jars are not strong enough. Canning lids need to be bought annually, but the bands and jars can be reused for years. One-piece Tattler lids are not USDA recommended at this time.

Storage time: Foods preserved with this method should be used within 1 to 2 years.

Food safety note: The boiling water bath method kills most yeasts and molds in high acid foods. If you open a jar and smell fermentation or see mold, throw the jar away.

4. Pressure canning

Advantages: This is a great way to can low acid foods for home use. Properly done, it is as safe as commercial products, but there is more personal control over the content.

Disadvantages: Pressure canning must be done according to research-based methods in order to be safe! Canned low acid vegetables and meats are prime targets for the growth of the deadly botulism toxin.  See http://nchfp.uga.edu/  for online instructions and recipes.

Level of preparation difficulty: Difficult, mainly because of the time involved. Once the food is prepared for the jars, the pressure canner must be closely watched to make sure the pressure consistently stays at the 13 to 15 pounds of pressure needed to be safe at Utah altitudes for the correct amount of time.

Cost: The cost of a pressure canner ranges from $150 to $300. A pressure cooker is too small to be a pressure canner. Electric pressure cookers that claim to also pressure can are not recommended because they cannot hold 15 pounds of pressure for as long as it needs to be held at our altitude for safe canning. The cost of jars and lids is the same as for water bath canning.

Storage time: Foods preserved with this method should be used within 1 to 2 years.

Food safety note: If properly canned using a USDA or Extension tested recipe, the temperatures reached in a pressure canner should kill botulism spores, which create the botulism toxin. It is recommended to boil any low acid canned product for 15 minutes before eating as an additional safeguard, but anything that seems suspicious of spoilage should be thrown away rather than eaten.

5. Home freeze-dryer

Advantages: This method yields fresh taste, great nutrition retention, and preparation is easy (same as freezing or dehydrating).

Disadvantages: Freeze drying machines are expensive, noisy,  and take up space—they are quite large: the mid-size model is the size of a dishwasher, the small is the size of a student refrigerator. When the vacuum pump goes on, it is noisier than a dishwasher.

Level of preparation difficulty: Easy—the same preparation as for freezing or dehydrating. The time for processing is typically 24 hours or more, but it doesn’t need to be watched to do the processing.

Cost: Freeze drying machines cost $2500 and up, and require special vacuum pump oil.

Storage time: Home freeze-dryers are new, so definitive time studies have not been done. It is estimated the product is safe for around 10 years.

Food safety note: Freeze-drying does not kill bacteria. The same food safety recommendations as for either freezing or drying hold true here: once the product is rehydrated, the bacteria begin to grow again.

Home food preservation is an important skill to have. It saves money, gives control over content, and focuses your mind on healthy eating. Choose a process and enjoy the bounty!


This article was written by Cathy Merrill, USU Extension Assistant Professor, Utah County

 

 

 

 




Chill Out! Tips for Freezing Fresh Produce

chill outDuring the summer, fruits and vegetables are abundant — so don’t waste the opportunity for fresh produce because you may not have time to bottle it. Chill out: Use your freezer!


Freezing is safe, fast and gives the freshest taste with the highest nutrition of any preservation method. Freezing doesn’t kill bacteria—so make sure you wash and package your produce well–but it does slow or prevent bacterial growth because of the low temperatures.

A few tips:

  • Freezers should be kept at 0º F
  • Package in rigid, freezer-safe containers or freezer bags. Make sure to label them!
  • Vegetables are best blanched and cooled before being frozen. It stops the ripening action.
    • There are a few exceptions: Sweet or hot peppers can be washed and thrown in freezer bags to be used later in salsas or ….whatever! Onions may also be frozen without blanching—but double bag them to prevent odor transfers to other foods.
  • Fruits typically need no pretreatment, but for convenience sake, wash/drain, then freeze the individual pieces of fruit on a tray. Once they are frozen (about an hour), take them off the tray and put them in freezer bags. When you want to eat them, you can take out the amount you plan to use, rather than thawing the entire bag.
  • For small berries, the less handling the better. Wash/drain them and put them in one layer in a freezer bag. Put the freezer bags flat on the tray in the freezer. That way they freeze as individual pieces, but you aren’t repacking and breaking them in pieces.
  • For best quality, do not let frozen fruit totally thaw before eating: the freezing process damages the cell structure and they tend to be mushy. Put them out to eat when they still have ice crystals on them.
  • Tomatoes can be washed and frozen to be used in salsa later with their peelings on. To peel the skins later, pour boiling water over them, and the peelings will slip off. Let the tomatoes thaw a little before trying to chop them for the salsa.
  • Measure any fruit to be used in a recipe while it is still a little frozen to get a realistic picture of how much you are using. Include any liquid from the thawing in the measurement.

For more information, look in the freezing section of the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.

Chill out—and enjoy the fruits of your labors!


This article was written by Cathy Merrill, FCS Extension Assistant Professor, USU Extension, Utah County




Save Your Summer Harvest! // Freezing Vegetables

Freezing Vegetables

Tips on how you can enjoy your garden veggies all year long!











Don’t Forget About Your Freezer

Summer gardens have been planted, and it won’t be long before it will be time to preserve the harvest. Canning and dehydrating are always options, but freezing is my favorite way to preserve vegetables.

I like freezing because it’s fast. Freezing also preserves the fresh flavor and bright color of the vegetables. And, because vegetables are harvested at their peak and prepared and frozen quickly, they keep their nutrients.

You can prepare excellent frozen vegetables at home by following these tips.

1. Find a good set of instructions. I recommend the National Center for Home Food Preservation, http://nchfp.uga.edu/. They have lots of great information about freezing, canning, dehydrating, pickling and making jams and jellies. You can find general information or instructions for preserving a specific food.

2. Harvest the vegetables when they are tender and fresh. The quality will not improve with freezing. Start with the best.

3. Blanch vegetables to preserve their quality and extend the time they can be stored in the freezer. Using a blancher (a pan with an insert that holds the vegetables and allows you to lower the vegetables into the boiling water and lift them out) makes this job easier. Chill the vegetables in ice water for the same amount of time they were blanched.

4. Package the vegetables in air-tight boxes, plastic containers or bags designed for the freezer. Remove as much of the air as possible. Using containers specially designed for the freezer will help preserve the quality of the vegetables for a longer time.

5. Label and date the containers so you know what is in them and how long they have been stored.

6. Store frozen vegetables in an upright or chest freezer at 0° F or colder. The quality of the vegetables won’t last as long if they are stored in the warmer temperatures of the refrigerator’s freezer compartment.
Start preparing now so you will be ready when the peas, spinach, corn and summer squash are ready to harvest.


This article was written by Ann Henderson


References:

National Center for Home Food Preservation