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RBC — Summer is not here yet, but the traditions of canning begin now. How about you make some extra batches to share and bring to the 2008 Rio Blanco County Fair? Here are some things to keep in mind this year when you are getting ready to can.
The old ritual of spring cleaning always included getting the kitchen scrupulously clean in preparation for the canning season. This sanitary purge was intended to minimize spoilage organisms, such as mold, yeasts and bacteria, which are present in the soil, water and air around us. That’s still the goal of anyone preparing to do home canning. We can control these organisms adequately by the way we handle food in a clean environment and by following recommended safe procedures in “putting up” food.
What are spoilage organisms?
Not all molds are harmful, for instance, those in “blue” cheeses are necessary for its distinctive flavor. However, when mold spores land on food and grow threads and streaks of discoloration or cover it with fuzz, they may produce mycotoxins that may be harmful.
Yeasts also come from spores and cause fermentation, which is beneficial in beer, sauerkraut and dill pickles but awful in applesauce.
Bacteria are tougher than molds and yeasts to kill and some may produce hidden toxins. The temperature of boiling water is not hot enough to destroy some bacteria, such as Clostridium botulinum spores, which are abundant in Colorado soils. That’s why a pressure canner is required to kill any botulism in canning low-acid foods such as vegetables and meat.
Enzymes in plants and animals are the inherent biochemicals that help them ripen and mature. If the process is not stopped at the desired maturity by heating (or eating), maturity continues and the product decomposes — thus, the rotten peach.
How do you know if a canned product is spoiled? Some of the signs include:
n Oozing around the seal.
n Mold around the seal or visible in the contents.
n Gassiness (small bubbles) in the contents.
n Cloudy liquid or yeasty smell.
n Shriveled or spongy-looking food.
n Unnatural color of food.
n Spurting liquid when opened.
n Slimy product-too soft.
n Disagreeable odor.
n Mold on the underside of lid.
To avoid the disappointment of a spoiled product after all the effort of canning, use up-to-date directions and recipes, standard canning jars and two-part lids (flats and screw bands). Follow the directions for pre-treating the brand of flats you use. Process fruits, pickles, jams and jellies in the boiling water bath, making sure you adjust for high altitude. If the sea level processing time is 20 minutes or less, add one minute per 1,000 feet of elevation. If it is more than 20 minutes, add two minutes per 1,000 feet. Use a pressure canner for vegetables and meats. When pressure canning, use the 15-pound weight at all Colorado elevations; for dial gauges, add 1/2 pound pressure per 1,000 feet of elevation.
Don’t get creative with canning recipes. For instance, salsa has become a popular home-preserved product. Some people like to concoct their own combination of ingredients. However, the mixture may not be acid enough for the boiling water bath to produce a safe product and a pressure canner might be required for processing. The safest procedure is to follow a researched recipe that specifies the boiling water bath or the pressure canner. One safe alternative would be to freeze the sauce.
Food technologists also advise us to avoid following home canning methods of celebrities, old cookbooks, “back to nature” publications and out-of-date leaflets. Information on canning and other food preservation methods is available from the Rio Blanco County Extension office.
And remember to bring your canned preserves to the 2008 Rio Blanco County Fair!