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The 3 Commandments of Safe Canning

by Dawn
bright colored canning jars

Follow These 3 Simple Rules for a Safe & Successful Canning Season

Have you always wanted to preserve your food by canning but just aren’t sure where to start? It’s actually quite simple if you follow these 3 easy rules.

Here we go…..

Commandment 1: Thou Shalt Have the Proper Equipment

Trying to can without the proper equipment would be like trying to scuba dive with a piece of garden hose and a gorilla mask. Yes, really, it would be that bad!

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Depending on the kind of food you’re planning to can (see commandment #2 below), you’ll need either a pressure canner or hot water bath canner.

Pressure Canners

If you’ll be canning low acid foods like meats, seafood, soups, bone broth, and some fruits and vegetables, you’ll need a pressure canner.

NOTE: A pressure CANNER and a pressure COOKER are two entirely different things designed to cook completely differently. A pressure cooker, like the all-popular Instant Pot, is used to cook foods that will be eaten immediately. As wonderful as it is, it is NOT SAFE for canning as it doesn’t maintain consistent pressure for the amount of time needed for safe food preservation.

You have 2 options when it comes to pressure canners. If you’ve got a flat-top stove like I do, you’ll need a stand-alone pressure canner that plugs in to the wall, like this one:

This is the one I have and have been using for the past 3 years. I’m quite pleased with it, although would like to get another one at some point because it only does 4 quarts or 5 pints at once.

If you have a more traditional stove with burners, you can get a pressure canner that goes right on the stove. You’ll actually have more options this way, and something like this one will work just fine:

With this, you’re able to can 7 quarts or 16 pints at one time, saving you some time over the other option.

Hot Water Bath Canners

Again, if you’ve got a flat top stove, your options are a bit more limited. However, if you’ve purchased or are planning to purchase the electric pressure canner I linked to above, you’re all set, as it will also work as a water bath canner.

If you’ve got a more traditional stove top, you can use a water bath canner like the one below:

Keep in mind that if you already have a large, deep stockpot at least 3″ taller than your canning jars, you don’t need a special canner for water bath canning. You do need some type of rack for the bottom to keep the jars up just a little bit, but a small cooling rack will work for that. As long as you have the rack and a lid, you’ve got what you need.

Jars, Lids & Rings

canning jars and lids
Just a small portion of the jars and lids I have!

No matter what type of canning you’re doing, you’ll need jars, lids and rings. You can certainly reuse old canning jars from grandma’s basement, but you should have new rings and lids.

Jars come in multiple sizes, although the most popular are typically pints and quarts. They also come in wide mouth and regular mouth. Really, it’s personal preference which ones you use. I have and use both interchangeably without any problems.

Please note that most jars will come with lids and bands. Bands are reusable, lids are not, so once you have a good supply of jars, you probably won’t need to replace your bands very often (unless they rust), but lids must only be used once and then discarded, so you’ll be buying lids often. Thankfully, they’re not expensive at all (the pack above is a very large one with 8 dozen lids. They can be purchased as single dozens as well).

Other Canning Equipment

There are just a few other things you’ll definitely want. A magnetic lid lifter, jar lifter and funnel are musts. You’ll also need a couple of potholders and Ove Gloves or the equivalent to protect your hands.

NOTE: I did this once, so I’m going to mention it. I went to lift a jar out of my water bath canner and had a knit Ove Glove on my hand. The finger of the glove touched the almost-boiling water and, faster than you can even imagine, pulled a whole lot of extremely hot water up the finger into the fabric of the glove and onto my hand. Thankfully, I was able to yank it off fast enough that I didn’t have lasting burns. Just be careful NOT to get the glove into the hot water.

Here’s a nice little inexpensive accessory set for you to consider:

Please keep in mind that many canners come with accessories, so be sure to check before you buy a separate set.

canning lids
You can never have too many lids!

Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Know Thine Acidity Levels

The acidity level of the food you want to can is going to determine whether you’re using a pressure canner or a water bath canner.

This is important because improperly canned foods can develop botulism. Botulism spores aren’t killed at the normal boiling point of water (212F), but must be brought to 240F before they’ll die. The only way to achieve this in home canning is to use a pressure canner.

Botulism is NOT something to play around with. It’s fatal in 40-50% of cases, and even if it doesn’t kill you, can cause all kinds of nasty symptoms like paralysis, trouble breathing, facial drooping, nausea and vomiting, and the symptoms can last a long time, even with treatment. This is NOT something to take lightly!

Pickles and some fruits and veggies are acidic enough (less than 4.6 pH) that they can safely be canned via water bath, but some other veggies, fruits, all meats and seafood MUST be pressure canned. Any mixed products, for instance, stews with veggies and meats, must also be pressure canned.

So, how do you know? Get yourself a good canning book and use it as a reference. I use and highly recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. You can’t go wrong with Ball, as they are THE experts when it comes to home canning. There’s even a handy dandy acidity chart in the book to let you know what’s safe for water bath canning and what’s not.

NOTE: Many years ago, tomatoes were considered safe for water bath canning. However, with the advent of the newer hybrids, many tomatoes are no longer acidic enough to be safe. Therefore, they must either be pressure canned (which is how I handle them) or have lemon juice added to increase the acidity. The Ball book goes through how to do this, but I wanted to mention it as their chart still lists tomatoes as high acid foods.

Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Follow the Directions

Along with being sure you’re canning your foods in the proper manner, you MUST follow the canning recipes just as they’re written in a book like the Ball book.

I stress that you need to use a book like the Ball canning book and NOT your dear departed grandma’s 75 year old recipe.

canning cupboard
My canning cupboard. It’s a little
sparse right now because canning
season is just beginning again

No offense to your grandma, but her canning methods were likely not safe by today’s standards. Personally, I watched my grandma can hundreds of jars of green beans a year in a water bath canner. Did any of us ever get sick? No. Was it a safe way of doing things? No. Would I ever do it that way now? NOOOOOOO!

Really, pressure canning is no more difficult than water bath canning, so why would you take chances with your family and friends’ lives when you don’t have to?

If your food is safe for water bath canning, please be sure to follow the directions exactly. So, let’s say you’ve got a pickle recipe that calls for quarts to be canned for 20 minutes and pints to be canned for 10 minutes. You’re in a hurry, so you figure you’ll just can your quarts for 15 minutes. That’ll be enough time, right?

Well, maybe it could be, but maybe not! Again, for a 5 minute difference, do you want to take the chance? Nope, me neither.

So, to recap, be sure you’re using the proper equipment, selecting the proper canning method for the food you’re preserving, and following a good, safe recipe exactly as written.

colorful canning jars

If you do these three things, you’ll find that canning is easy, enjoyable and safe. Even better, you’ll have lots of yummy food preserved in a way that’s easily accessible and doesn’t require any electricity or special equipment to keep for several years. What could be better?

I hope today’s post has been useful and thank you for reading! You’ll find several pinnable images below. Be sure to pin to your Canning or Food Preservation board for future reference.

Otherwise, smile and have a crazy organic day!

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Follow These 3 Simple Rules for a Safe & Successful Canning Season


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Nikki Gwin 08/18/2019 - 9:20 pm

Canned vegetables are so beautiful! I love those pictures.
🙂 gwingal

Linda Carlson 08/18/2019 - 9:38 am

Lots of good information. I used to can but only dehydrate and freeze now.

Sarita 08/16/2019 - 2:43 pm

We’ve looked at those electric pressure canners but I was afraid they’d use more power than our old solar panels would provide and would therefore require the generator. Now with our new setup – I’m so tempted. Maybe I’ll ask 🎅🏻 Santa!

Dawn 08/17/2019 - 10:25 am

Haha, I definitely think you should ask Santa for a new toy!


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