Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself before you start the canning process:
1) Are you canning without a recipe?
2) Are you canning with a recipe that you or a family member made up?
3) Are you canning with "old" jars?
4) Are you canning without having your pressure canner lid tested?
5) Is your gasket old and inflexible?
6) Are you canning green beans in a water bath canner?
7) Are you canning tomatoes without adding any acid?
8) Are you placing your hot jars directly on your counter without layers of towels?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be at greater risk for bacteria contaminating your product or having a canning accident. Consider the following:
• Canning is a science. The USDA and other organizations have developed and tested recipes that lower the risk for botulism and other bacteria that can make canned food unsafe to eat. Always follow a tested recipe. The Ball Blue Book of preserving or the USDA canning website offers safe and delicious recipes.
• Canning with jars that your grandmother or mother used can be unsafe. Glass jars undergo extreme heat and pressure in the canning process. Over time glass can weaken and break during canning. There have been reports of older jars breaking in the canner or when taken out of the canner to cool. Keep yourself safe; replace older canning jars with newer ones. Please note that jars should never be placed on a cold counter to cool down. This will cause jars to break regardless of how old they are. Always set up a layer of towels on your counter to receive the jars.
• It is recommended to test your canner dial gauge annually to be sure that it is accurate. Virginia Cooperative Extension can check your canner tops for free. In addition, we can inspect your gasket and the overall condition of your canner to be sure that it is safe to use.
• There have been reports of people canning green beans in a water bath canner! Green beans are a low acid food and MUST be canned in a pressure canner. The rule of thumb is that low acid foods such as vegetables and meats must be canned in a pressure canner. High acid foods can be canned in a water bath canner. Tomatoes can be canned either way, but acid must be added to the tomatoes to keep them safe. Again, be sure to follow a tested recipe when canning any product.
Canning is a fun and wonderful way to preserve your garden fruit and vegetables for later use. To keep you and your family safe, follow tested recipes and use safe equipment. Family Consumer Sciences (FCS) agents in Virginia Cooperative Extension can guide you in this process. Use this website to find an FCS agent in your area: