How to Avoid Canning Disasters

When I was a little girl, canning day in my grandmother’s kitchen was practically a sacred event. Every year, as summer drew to a close, Grandma got her canning supplies out of storage and went to work putting up her mouthwatering relishes, piccalilli, pears in cinnamon syrup and, if we were lucky, the wild mushrooms we’d foraged in the woods the previous day. I remember my grandmother being almost obsessive about sterilizing her jars and lids. She inspected each jar of food with an eagle’s eye to make sure the vacuum seal was good and tight “so nobody gets sick.”

jelly jars

From time to time, one of my grandmother’s friends from the Old Country would drop by with a jar of home preserved mushrooms. Among the old women in her circle, giving away some of the wild mushrooms you’d picked and canned yourself was akin to giving away some of your gold. Grandma always made an appropriate show of receiving these precious gifts—and then rushed off to toss them in the trash as soon as the gift-giver left. I’d stare at her, wide-eyed and pleading, every time she deposited one of those coveted jars of wild mushrooms in the giant barrel behind the house. “So nobody gets sick,” she would say. Because Grandma never trusted anyone else’s canning skills, I developed a healthy respect for the science of preserving foods at a very young age.

Today Grandma’s canning methods are no considered longer state-of-the-art. What’s changed since then? Well, genetic engineering, for one thing. Modern tomatoes are less acidic and more disease resistant, for example. In addition, food science research has brought about the development of newer, safer preservation techniques. It turns out that Grandma’s boiling water bath wasn’t the safest way to preserve those wild mushrooms after all. If she were putting up mushrooms today, she’d be using a pressure canner. Thank goodness Grandma was so careful. Had she been less diligent, we all might have gotten sick—or worse.

Where Things Can Go Wrong

Perhaps you had a Grandma who passed her canning recipes down to you, too. If so, be sure to consult a trustworthy resource for current canning guidelines so you can adjust the outdated instructions for your heirloom recipes. The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning is often recommended.

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain enzymes that go to work breaking down the food as soon as it’s harvested. Spoilage can also occur as a result of oxidation. We’ve all seen a cut apple turn brown when it’s exposed to air. During the canning process, heat stops the action of enzymes and causes oxygen to be expelled from the jars, which prevents the preserved food from spoiling. Heat also kills microorganisms such as yeasts, molds, and bacteria. But this is where it gets tricky.

One type of bacteria—the (sometimes) deadly botulism toxin—thrives in low acid, low oxygen conditions and can survive being boiled at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Meats and vegetables, including Grandma’s wild mushrooms, are low in acid, which makes them particularly susceptible to botulism. To preserve these foods safely, you need a pressure canner which, unlike a boiling water bath, can reach temperatures high enough to kill botulism (over 240 degrees).

How to Tell If the Food Has Gone Bad

Even when you’re as diligent as my grandmother was about following proper canning techniques, home preserved foods occasionally spoil on the shelf. Always inspect each jar carefully before consuming the contents. Examine the exterior and look for a broken seal, chipped glass, a bulging lid, or leaking. When you open the jar, check for signs of spoilage such as an “off” odor or color, or a layer of green or fuzzy mold growing on the surface of the food. If you suspect the food is spoiled, THROW IT OUT! Do not taste it or attempt to salvage the contents by scraping off the mold or cooking the food a second time.

moldy sauce

Jars of food that show no signs of spoilage can still be contaminated with botulism, which is why my grandmother threw away the home preserved mushrooms she received as gifts. Botulism is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. So take Grandma’s advice and dispose of any low-acid foods that were canned improperly, even if they show no signs of spoilage. DO NOT eat preserved low-acid foods under any of the following circumstances:

  • The food wasn’t processed in a pressure canner.
  • The temperature gauge on the canner was inaccurate.
  • Well-researched and up-to-date processing times and pressures were not used.
  • Ingredient proportions were changed from the original recipe.
  • The processing time and pressure were not appropriate for the altitude at which the food was processed.

Worst Case: Botulism

If you suspect a jar of low-acid food is spoiled, always assume it’s contaminated with botulism. Be sure to following special handling procedures for disposal. If the jar is still sealed, place it in a heavy-duty plastic garbage bag and tie it closed. Take the bag outside and place it in the trash bin, or bury it in the ground under at least two feet of soil. If the seal is broken, or if the jar is open or leaking, the jar and its contents must be detoxified before you disposal. After detoxification, you’ll need to clean up any surfaces that came into contact with the contaminated item, including countertops, can openers, or clothing.

How to Detoxify Contaminated Jars

  • Wear rubber gloves.
  • Place the jars and lids on their sides in a large pot or canner.
  • Wash your gloved hands.
  • Add hot water to approximately one inch above the jars. Be careful not to splash, as this will spread contamination.
  • Put a lid on the pot and heat to boiling.
  • Boil for 30 minutes.
  • Cool and then throw the containers, lids, and food in the trash or bury everything in the ground under two feet of soil.

How to Clean Contaminated Surfaces

  • Wear rubber gloves.
  • Mix up a fresh solution of 1 part Clorox (5 to 6% sodium hypochlorite) to 5 parts water.
  • Spray surfaces with the bleach solution. Let stand 30 minutes.
  • Wipe down the treated areas with paper towels, then place the paper towels in a plastic bag before throwing them in the trash.
  • Treat all affected surfaces with the bleach solution a second time. Let stand 30 minutes, then rinse.
  • Wash all detoxified surfaces and clothing.
  • When finished, throw the rubber gloves in the trash.

Women washing hands in white sink good suds

Home preserved vegetables are the most common cause of botulism outbreaks in the United States. But there’s no need to worry, as long as you preserve the foods using correct, up-to-date methods and take care to inspect the containers for signs of spoilage before consuming the contents.

Why not make canning day a special event at your home, too? Involve the whole family! Children love “helping” in the kitchen. For them, canning is fun, educational, and a wonderful way to make memories they’ll cherish forever. By preserving your own foods, you can enjoy the bounty of your farm and garden all year long. Canning also saves you money and minimizes waste. You can preserve any extra food you can’t use right away when a bumper crop comes in, or when you slaughter livestock. And when your local supermarket has a big sale, you can stock up without worrying that it might not all fit in your freezer. If you’re a prepper or live off the grid, you’ll appreciate the convenience of long-term food storage without need for electricity. Sure, canning is work and requires time, a few pieces of special equipment, and a little research up front. But when your family is sitting at the dinner table in the middle of January enjoying a scrumptious sauce made from last summer’s sweet tomatoes, you’ll be so glad you made the effort.


Authored by Anna Paige

We’re giving away a Fermenting Kit!

Celebrate the Harvest

It’s Homesteader’s Supply week! We are giving away the Fermenting Kit AND a $35 gift certificate!

fermenting kitHomesteader’s Supply and Countryside & Small Stock Journal invite you to preserve the harvest and reap the many gifts the earth provides this time of year. Click on the photo or link above to enter.

Enter weekly to win a prize package from one of our sustainable living sponsors. Your weekly entry will also be included in the grand prize drawing (value of $5,000) in September!




Reasons You Should Buy Locally

The gardens are producing, we’re putting up food and there are vegetables and fruits to share, but do we have enough of all we want? If not, let’s do what we can to buy locally.

Do you know how old your grocery store purchased fresh vegetables are?  According to the Economics of Food, Farming, Natural Resources and Rural America Economic Research Service, which is part of the USDA, food travels an average from 1500 to 2500 miles, depending on what it is and where it was grown or raised, from the field to your dinner table.  Your food will be much fresher than its grocery store counterpart that needed 7 to 14 days to reach its destination after being picked.  That’s a lot of traveling, time and fuel to get that food to you.  Every day thousands of semis are on our interstates bringing food to us.

According to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and transportation of food use up a lot of our non-renewable petroleum.  They say one fifth of all petroleum in the United States is used in agriculture alone.  If you shop at a farmers market, farmstand or are a CSA customer you’re food will have maximum freshness, contain less packaging and use less fuel for transportation.  Fewer emissioins will be produced which will help to keep our air cleaner.  You probably won’t find styrofoam trays and plastic wrap (petrochemical products) used as packaging at your local farms.  You’re more likely to find baskets of unpackaged food to choose from.

bell pepper, buy local

Nutrient content starts to decline after fruits and vegetables are harvested so the sooner you have them on your plate the better.  According to David Suzuki, loss of nutrients also comes from picking unripe fruit so that it will last extended time in transport.  Additionally, he also says chemicals are often used to prevent mold and fungus from growing during transportation and storage.

Shopping locally keeps your money in the local economy longer.  If the farmer spends that money in the community the local economy benefits from those same dollars again. You’ll also help create local jobs.  Farms need workers.  And don’t worry about cancelling out a job at the big box store.  We’re no where close to having that much locally grown food available – but there’s hope!  The Buy Locally movement continues to spread and gain followers as people learn more about its importance.

cherry tomato, grocery shopping is expensive

Juliet tomato

Grocery stores don’t offer the unique varieties you can find on farms. Grocery stores must have produce grown to look appealing and hold up well during transportation.  According to Mary Choate, author of “A Good Tomato in Winter, Where?” most fresh fruits and vegetables produced in the US are shipped from California, Florida and Washington.  Food has to hold up to handling, being bumped around a lot, and long rides to stores.  You don’t get as many varieties because of this.  Thin skinned tomatoes, for example, often taste wonderful but they’re more prone to cracking during the rough handling they’ll get.

You’ll support family farmers.  Since 1935, the United States has lost 4.7 million farms.  Fewer than one million people claim farming as their primary occupation now.  That’s terrible.  We need more farmers growing and raising healthy food closer to our homes.  In order for those farmers to run sustainable farms we need to show them our support.  When you support your local farmers you know where that food is coming from.  What do you know about food imported from foreign countries?  You can see the growing practices they use for vegetables and fruits.  Chickens and turkeys raised on pasture have very different lives than their commodity farm raised counterparts.  Pasture, fresh air, sunshine, eating bugs and grass like birds are meant to do, and natural fertilizing as manure is dropped versus cement floors with litter to collect manure, no sunshine, no natural foods, not moving around to catch bugs: it’s an easy choice for me.  The texture of a pasture raised bird is incredible.  You get meat that needs to be chewed and enjoyed.  And, there’s something serene about passing a pasture full of cows, don’t you think?  I grew up in the suburbs.  One of my favorite things was to stand at the fence of a pasture filled with replacement heifers owned by a dairy farm 20 miles away.  I will always love that sight.

Preserve the Harvest! Let’s Celebrate

Celebrate the Harvest


Homesteader’s Supply and Countryside & Small Stock Journal invite you to preserve the harvest and reap the many gifts the earth provides this time of year. Click on the photo or link above to enter.

This week’s prizes are a one-year subscription to Countryside & Small Stock Journal, a FD-61 food dehydrator, and a box of Pomona pectin.

Enter weekly to win a prize package from one of our sustainable living sponsors. Your weekly entry will also be included in the grand prize drawing (value of $5,000) in September!


How to Keep Chickens Cool

How to Keep Chickens Cool

The hottest part of summer is here. We think about keeping ourselves cool and if we have chickens, we’re concerned with how to keep chickens cool. If your chickens are spreading their wings, neck outstretched, and panting, they are too hot. These tips will help you keep chickens cool and put your mind at ease a bit.

how to keep chickens coolcelebrate the harvest

  • Spray the roof of the coop.
    Cooling down the roof can cool the inside temperature 10° quickly. Spray the roof until the water running off is cool. If you live in a particularly hot area I suggest putting a sprinkler on the roof for convenience. Adjust it so that it sprays only the roof, and turn it on and off at the faucet.
  • Place an exhaust fan at the high point of the ceiling. It will pull the hot air out at the top and the cooler air in through the windows. Let it run all night if possible. Chances are the neighbors have their windows closed and the AC on and won’t hear the fan.
  • Provide shade. That seems like a no-brainer but there might be something here you hadn’t thought of. Shade the windows on the south and west sides. You can hang a curtain rod outside the coop. Leave a couple of inches between the cloth and window to allow air flow. Shade the pen by clothes pinning a reflective tarp on the outside wall. It will provide shade up against that wall and reflect the heat.
  • Chickens will stand in a shallow pan of cool water. I thought at first that I had some chickens that weren’t very bright, then I realized they were doing it only in the summer. Add a block of ice and place the pan in the shade to keep the water cool longer.
  • Make a muddy spot in the shade. It doesn’t need to be dripping wet, just damp.
  • Add a block of ice to their drinking water. I water my chickens outside most of the year because it keeps the coop neater but on hot days, they’re waterer is inside, out of the sun.
  • If possible, let them spend the day on grass in the shade.
  • Freeze water bottles and place them in the coop. It might take them a while to figure out but eventually they might start using them.
Buff orpington, layers, laying hen

Buff Orpington

If you discover a chicken in serious distress you should cool the bird by submerging it in cool, not cold, water. Let it shake off and dry indoors or in a cool corner of the barn. Be sure the chicken is drinking. If you think it needs a boost, mix up a batch of homemade electrolytes.

Homemade Electrolytes

1/2 gallon of water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp sugar

Remember to keep air circulating, provide shade, and act quickly when you have a chicken in distress. Stay cool!

Celebrate the Harvest – Giveaway Week 1

Celebrate the Harvest

Homesteader’s Supply and Countryside & Small Stock Journal invite you to celebrate the harvest and reap the many gifts the earth provides this time of year. Click on the photo or link above to enter.
preserve the harvestEnter weekly to win a prize package from one of our sustainable living sponsors. Your weekly entry will also be included in the grand prize drawing (value of $5,000) in September!