How To Safely Preserve Summer Flavors

Experts Offer Tips For Successful Canning Season
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Jars of pickled peppers
ccarlstead (CC-BY)

Canning is a practice sealed into Wisconsin's soul — the state has a "pickle bill" on the law books after all.

As Milwaukee County master food preserver Christina Ward explained on Wisconsin Public Radio's Central Time, the possibilities for pickling are bountiful. But, Wisconsinites shouldn’t be overconfident when preserving their favorite summer produce.

Whether someone is an old hand at canning or just taking it up after overdoing it with farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture boxes, it's crucial to take extra care to keep those summery flavors in and dangerous microbes out. Safe canning means staying on top of a host of variables, from temperature to elevation to the acidity of the food.

Botulism bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) can't survive in highly acidic environments­ — those with a pH level of 4.6 or lower — but the bacterium's spores are extremely heat-resistant, so low- and high-acid foods require different canning processes. Granted, botulism is extremely rare in the U.S. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 145 cases per year are reported, with improperly home-canned food causing a fraction of those cases.

But, to keep a serious illness rare and to do Wisconsin's long canning tradition proud, home canners should start with a few simple primers from Barbara Ingham, a University of Wisconsin-Extension food science specialist and UW-Madison professor of food science.

As Ingham explained in August 2014 on WPR's Larry Meiller Show, anyone embarking on a canning adventure needs to keep several key tips in mind: the acidity of the foods to be preserved, the difference between pressure cookers and pressure canners, equipment maintenance and testing, and the evolution of canning recipes.

Beyond those fundamentals, Ingham has created guides to more specific preserving pursuits, from canning salsa safely to learning the finer points of canning lids to starting a home-canning business.

Learn more at UW-Extension.

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