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Gear Up for a Safe and Productive Canning Season

Here in the Midwest, home canning has been a way of life for many since before they could even remember. But home canning has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the past few years, thanks to Americans' increased interest in the local food movement and desire to be economical in the wake of our recession.

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I confess, I never knew much about food preservation until I started working for Extension. I have now heard countless stories of people growing up watching their elders put up green beans, peaches and whatever else they could preserve. I am proud to say that I, too, am embracing the culture and have left my suburban ignorance behind.

As with learning any new skill, I can attest that it's pretty rewarding to feel that sense of mastery and self-satisfaction. Plus, you can share the love by gifting your delicious results to others throughout the year. Whether you have an abundance of produce from the garden or came across an amazing sale on strawberries and stocked up, preservation is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of food you've acquired at low cost. You may even be able to make some money back if you sell your items at farmers' markets in accordance with the Cottage Foods Act of 2011. (If you're interested in this, check out our From Garden Gates to Dinner Plates website!)

With the growing interest in personal health, home food preservation offers the option of addressing dietary concerns. No-sugar-added jams are excellent for diabetics, while salt-free vegetables are good choices for those with cardiovascular concerns. There is also the benefit of using few preservatives other than acid, sugar and/or salt in the recipe combined with the high temperature and pressure associated with processing.

Now before you get all excited, there are some things to think about prior to jumping on the bandwagon...

  • The start-up costs of equipment and accessories may not be prohibitive, but will you have access to enough quality produce to make it worth it?
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  • Canning also takes planning, time and effort, so you need to weigh whether you can fit it in your schedule.
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  • Do you have enough storage space? You'll need plenty of cabinet or storage space that is relatively cool and dark.
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  • Finally, do you have the knowledge and skills?

Even for those who are seasoned pros, preservation recommendations have changed over the years. When I tell someone they shouldn't be canning green beans in a hot water bath, I often hear "well, that's how my grandma always did it" or "I've never gotten sick before."

If you don't follow current food-safety guidelines, it really is a toss-up. According to the CDC, 38 percent of botulism outbreaks since 1996 were from home-canned vegetables, where home canners did not follow instructions, did not use pressure canners, ignored signs of spoilage and were unaware of the risk. Botulism is no joke — poisoning can lead to paralysis and even death.

So whether you are just starting out or need to refresh your food preservation knowledge, make sure you join your Nutrition & Wellness Educators for our "Yes! You Can: Preserving Safely" programs this season. Besides receiving the latest, most up-to-date safety information, you will also be able get your dial-gauge pressure canner tested for accuracy. If you have a dial-gauge pressure canner, you need to get it tested once a year.

  • The Extension units listed below have educators offering these programs. Find the one closest to you and check out the website for information about upcoming programs!
  • For food preservation information any time of day, the National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource.
  • Check out this blog post that walks you through the process of making jam through photos: Making Strawberry Jam

    Grundy, Kankakee, Will Unit
    DuPage, Kane, Kendall Unit
    Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, Vermilion Unit
    Henry, Mercer, Rock Island, Stark Unit
    Boone, DeKalb, Ogle Unit
    DeWitt, Macon, Piatt Unit
    Jo Daviess, Stephenson, Winnebago Unit
    Henderson/Knox/McDonough/Warren Unit
    Carroll/Lee/Whiteside Unit
    Livingston/McLean/Woodford Unit
    Clark/Crawford/Edgar Unit

    Today's post was written by Leia Kedem. Leia Kedem, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator covering Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion Counties. She appears weekly on WCIA-3/WCIX-49 and is a biweekly contributor to the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. She also maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts where she regularly posts health tips and answers nutrition questions for free.