A Quick Overview to Safe Home Canning

This guest post is by I’m A Prep Kat and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

I know we have a lot of seasoned canners in the Pack. This article is aimed at the few who are afraid to jump in or are just starting out. Home canning is such a wonderful way to store food for later. Anyone can do it – you just need to learn to do it safely.

We grow and can food for many reasons; to keep our abundant harvest, to save money, to ensure healthy food for our families by avoiding additives or chemicals in packaging, and many more reasons. As we think about canning as a means to preserve food, a reminder about safe canning and storing of food is never out-of-order.

How does canning preserve food?

Home canning, when done correctly, preserves food by removing oxygen, killing bacteria and microorganisms and preventing the growth of yeasts and molds. It is one of the best methods to keep your harvest.

Following safe canning methods and recipes is the only way to lessen the incidences of food poisoning. One of the most dangerous forms of food poisoning is caused by Clostridium botulinum. These bacteria can exist dormant in the soil for many years, and when the conditions are right can multiply rapidly and produce a deadly toxin.

It likes to grow in moist, low acid foods with low levels of oxygen. Improperly handled and processed food jars are the perfect environment for botulinum spores to grow. Washing food before canning can reduce, but not eliminate the spores on the surface of food.

Since botulinum spores can survive boiling water, pressure canning, where tempratures reache at least 240 degrees F and pressures reach 10 to 15 pounds per square inch, needs to be used when canning low some foods. There is no safe method for water bath canning meat and vegetables. Grandma may have done it, but we know now that you must use a pressure canner for low acid foods.

A few simple guidelines to remember are:

1. Make sure you are using up-to-date methods and recipes

The decision to use a water bath canner or a pressure canner depends on the acidity of the food to be canned. Acid foods contain enough acid to prevent the growth of unwanted bacteria. These foods include most fruits and tomatoes (although some tomato varieties need to have acid added). Low acid foods, such as meat, seafood and most vegetables do not have enough acid to safely water bath can them.

The method of packing the jars with food is also dependent on the acidity of foods. Most acid foods that will be water bath canned need to be hot packed. That is, the food needs to be hot, and it needs to be placed into jars that are still hot from being sterilized in boiling water. Most low acid foods can be packed either hot or raw.

The best thing to do is use a recently published cookbook or canning guide. Ball’s Blue Book comes out every year and is inexpensive. Follow the methods and times recommended by the recipes.

2. Use the correct equipment.

Keep your equipment clean and in good repair. Have your pressure gauge checked each year for accuracy and make sure your gasket is still good.

Use the right canning jars and new seals; rings can be reused if they are in good shape. Commercial jars like what mayonnaise or pickles come in can be used for water bath canning with new seals and rings, but you can expect more seal failure with these, and they are more prone to cracking and breaking. These jars are not recommended for pressure canning for just these reasons.

The metal lid seals for canning jars have a gasket compound that melts and flows to cover the rim of the jar. These are seals are good for one use only.

3. Remember to adjust for altitude.

Water boils at a lower temperature at higher altitudes. You will need to lengthen the time when water bath canning or use a higher pressure if you live at an altitude higher than 1000 feet. Any good canning guide will give you the correct times and pressures.

4. Use quality ingredients.

As food ages, quality will naturally deteriorate, making it important to select quality products to start with. Use the best you can find – for a good product, use good ingredients. Use canning salt when the recipe calls for it. Regular table salt contains anti-caking agents that may turn your product cloudy. Can foods as soon after harvest as possible to maintain flavor, texture and nutrition.

5. Store your canned goods correctly.

When your jars are cooled, remove the ring, wash and dry the jars and store in a cool, dry, dark place. Rings are not needed for storage and may rust if left on. Rings left on the jars may also hide a faulty seal and spoiling food. Jars stored at around 50 degrees F will help ensure your food retains the goodness and nutrition you canned them for in the first place. Keep foods off of the floor and away from outside walls to help prevent condensation.

Home canning food makes sense. It can save money and allow you to feed your family wholesome, healthy food. If you follow these common sense safety guidelines you can be sure to avoid the chemicals and high salt content commonly found in commercially canned foods. You will know what is in the jar because YOU put it there. When you stand back and look at all the beautiful jars lining the shelves in your pantry, you know you will be able to provide high quality, nutritious and safe meals no matter what.

Take care, y’all!


Colorado State University Extension

North Dakota State University Extension Service

USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning

M.D. recommends: The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. :yes:

This contest will end on December 16 2012 – prizes include:

Well what are you waiting for – email your entries today. But please read the rules first… Yes

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of TheSurvivalistBlog.net. He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Nice article, Prep Kat

  2. button crazy says:

    Good information. I was reading a Freezing & Canning Cookbook by Food Editors of Farm Journal published 1963 just yesterday. Not only is there information on canning & freezing. There are recipes to use what you canned and froze. The recipes would be helpful to me. I want to start canning food items so all the information i can gather before i start will be helpful.

  3. Petticoat Prepper says:

    Well done Prep Kat! I’ve been a canner for more decades than I’d care to write down ;o)

    It’s easy to do if you’ve ‘The Book’ (ie the Ball Blue Book) it will walk you through everything. Just start small and work up. This year I canned over 600 jars of various foods. I’ve helped streatch my food budget by buying chicken when it’s on a mega sale and doing the ‘chicken a la king’ in the book. I get far more meals from one chicken this way plus I can work up soup stock and can that too!

    Good article, get ‘the book’ and get going. Once you do, you’ll wack your forehead and ask ‘why’d I wait?’

  4. Ah, memories from my childhood. Going out to U-pick groves, picking 200 pounds of pears, then spending the next three days canning. I HATE canned pears to this day. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley (Reseda) on a half acre. Half of that was dedicated to a huge garden. I spent all my summers gardening and canning.

    One year my brother and I dug by hand a 6’X8′ root cellar. It was completed in time for storing the spuds, carrots and other goodies. At one point, my mom actually had canned over 70 different varieties of food. I passed this skill on to my kids, though I doubt the little snots do much canning.

    Good article.

  5. Also, if you live in earthquake country, you may want to avoid putting your home-canned jars (that you put so much time & effort into!) on open-front shelves unless those shelves are protected with a way to keep jars from “dancing” off in the event of a quake — such as stretching a bungee cord across, or adding a sturdy lip to the bottom edge of each shelf — and anchoring your shelves to the wall. If you have un-used kitchen or dresser drawers, you can put jars in those too (right side up only, never on their sides).

  6. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Prep Kat,
    Thanks for the good article. It can not be said too many times: handle food safely and store food safely. I am learning to can foods I never new could be canned and enjoy being frugal. Thanks again.

  7. Well Done!!

  8. Tactical G-Ma says:

    I have chosen to freeze a lot of foods many of you have chosen to dehydrate or can because I like the taste better. But I have dozens of jars set aside so that should we lose means to run the refridges and freezers (plural), canning can commence immediately! Oh, and I have practiced on some low acid foods so I feel competent to save my food.

    Also, anyone remember Sam Kennison, the comedian? He used to do

    • HomeINsteader says:

      Good morning, T G-Ma! Whatcha gonna do when the power goes out? Can you really can that fast? I have several canners, but can only operate 2 at a time, as no more will fit on the top of my stove; of course, I can fire up an outside cooker, but those are difficult to regulate; I’d have to constantly attend it – which means I could not use the indoor stove at the same time, not easily, anyway.

      Ever tried to can food previously frozen? I have. Was not very palatable, and not very tasty…just in case you haven’t tried that yet.

      Sorry, TGMa – gonna have to disagree; yes, I know you expressed a PERSONAL PREFERENCE for frozen over canned and I also have freezers full of food – but I’m stickin’ with my home canned foods. If the grid goes down, I’ll just start cooking, throw a big block party or give it away, and switch to home-canned when the freezers are empty – and that doesn’t take long.

      Just had a house guest for a few days; sent them home with several jars of home-canned meats, tomatoes, goodies…and you would have thought they won the lottery! So, yes, they make great gifts, as well.

      But call me when you have to empty your freezer; I’ll come help you can it, and I’ll even bring my own tools!


      • Tactical G-Ma says:

        I know you are right ina lot of what you say and i do have commercially canned chicken, ham, tuna, sardines, clams, spam, chili,and of course beans. But I also have gas and wood stoves and hi btu burners at several buildings and days worth of gas to keep the frozen stuff frozen. Just have that side of me that is saying “IF” not “WHEN”. And since we eat what we prep, DH refuses to eat his chicken or meatloaf from a jar so long as there is a choice. If the grid goes down (a neighbor is hi up in the elect. co.) we wil be working like crazy to preserve the remaining foods.
        Doing what I am doing is not the right way but I have to do it for now.
        Thanks for pointing that out. Is definitely one of those do as I say, not as I do.

        Also, my DHs family on Long Island got their AC back at 1 a.m. today. They had canned goods to eat and they keep bottled water. They had enough gas to run the generators so the sump pumps kept the basements almost dry. They were all out on the eastern end of LI. Thank you all for your prayers and well wishes.

  9. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Sorry must have hit the wrong button.

    Anyway, Sam Kennison used to do a skit about the starving people in Africa. He said “Don’t send them money. Send them LUGGAGE!”

    For those of you who have to strap down your jars due to earthquakes I say, “Put a For Sale sign in your front yard, and move!”

    (Just being a wise-a**.)

    • Warmongerel says:

      Yeah, I remember that.

      “You’re starving? You live in the middle of a desert!!! What do you expect? Owww!!! Owww!!! Owwwww!!!

  10. MENTALMATT says:

    Nice article I plan on buying the Ball blue book and trying canning myself.

    • HomeINsteader says:

      It’s fairly easy, MentalMatt! You’ll surprise yourself! Just follow the rules and instructions, and you can’t miss. And the best part? At the end of the day, you can actually SEE the fruits of your labors! I love that.

      One thing books may not tell you is that meats (even pre-cooked) expand a great deal more than other types of foods, so, where a book may tell you to allow one inch headspace for meat (the distance between the top of the food in the jar and the the top of the jar), I recommend 1 1/2 (one and one-half) inches headspace for ALL MEATS – if it’s just meat and liquid in the jar. And remember that the liquid MUST cover the meat entirely, or you will end up with meat canned but not in liquid, and it will “turn” on you. But leave sufficient headspace for liquids when canning, as well, or they will boil over into your pressure canner. Probably wouldn’t hurt to eat meat that was canned but not covered in liquid, but, not very appetizing (I don’t think you would want to eat it!); keep it in liquid. You’ll be happier with the result. The only exception is bacon – I can that using only parchment paper, but it’s a different process.

      All meats should be pre-cooked, in my opinion, if only for a short while (hot pack them). You’re not trying to cook it to edible point – remember: it’s going to process at 10 lbs pressure for 90 minutes (in quarts). I prefer to roast chicken and pork and some beef; other beef I simply bring to a boil briefly; and then can it with additional broth, purchased, if necessary. Just make sure it’s MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) free. The Dollar Store carries Clover Valley – it’s inexpensive, MSG-free, and good. Not from China, either (some of their foods are; NEVER eat food from China). Swanson is a good ready-made product, as well. Just read the labels for MSG.]]

      Of course, meats may not be the best starting point; veggies and fruits are where most people begin; just wanted to share these meat canning tips.

      As stated above, there are a number of seasoned canners on here, so, if you don’t find your answer in the Ball Blue Book, then, ask the Pack. Someone here can answer. There are excellent resources online for canners, as well. Some folks here like “Canning Granny”, for example. The following site also has illustrated instructions for several canning projects: http://pickyourown.org/

      There are also posts on this site for canning you may find helpful.

      PS: I have a couple of guy friends who are excellent canners! They were interested in canning, and they’re good at it (and their wives are happy to let them be!). The men are getting interested in this skill, y’all!

  11. Black Rose says:

    I have used my pressure canner twice so far for beans and I am looking forward to low priced turkeys this month so I can try canning meat. Has anyone used the re usable canning lids? how do they work?

    • I'm A Prep Kat says:

      If you try them, let us know how they work. I want to, but they are so expensive I would like a review first 😉

  12. This year we have purchased a dehydrator, more vac seal bags, and canning supplies. Haven’t used them much, but as our travel is cut back in the winter, that’s our plan for this year – learn and put more up while saving money.

  13. Warmongerel says:

    Thanks, Prep Kat.

    I used to have a pressure cooker and made a lot of roast beef Sunday dinners with it, but I have no idea what happened to it. I’ve recently been looking into getting a new one for canning. To say that I’m clueless about the subject would be an understatement.

    But now I’m a little less clueless than I was 10 minutes ago. That’s why I keep coming back.

    Thank you, and thanks M.D.

  14. I bought the book a few weeks ago – trying to get ready for next summer. I’m saving up for the other supplies I’ll need too. I keep looking for jars on sale and there is no such thing around here. It’s sorta still canning season. Thanks for the info – my only experience is jelly sealed with paraffin – now a big no no.

  15. Any suggestions on how I can can without a regular stove? I do have a camp stove which runs on a small propane cylinder. I don’t know if it will produce enough heat for the length of time necessary.

  16. Encourager says:

    That is a good article, Prep Kat! Thanks!

  17. Good article! I’ve canned for years & am amazed at how many people I find that are interested in learning to can. People think it’s so hard & that they can’t do it. I always tell them to come help me but they never do. I’m always satisfied at the end of the season to see what all I’ve canned. It’s almost hard to start diving into my stock!!

  18. Hello. What a thrill reading all the great articles. I have a quick question, it is suggested that after canning your items, they should be stored in a dark and cool area. My problem is that we live in a retirement community using permanent mobil homes in South Texas. It is hot in the summer and kinda warm all winter, ave temp around 80 in the winter. Is it safe to store canned food to include canned meat in a fairly warm to cool bedroom?

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