Preserving Your Harvest Safely

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Zakhar Mar/Shutterstock

Things to Consider Before Preserving Your Harvest

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Millions of Americans pickle, can, freeze, dry, and ferment the abundance of summer fruits and vegetables from their gardens and local farms. Here are a few things you should remember to keep your hard-earned harvest safe to eat!

My family has been growing all their own food and canning for generations. It’s exciting to see a huge resurgence of interest in home gardening and buying directly from growers at farmers’ markets, pick-your-own operations, community-supported agriculture enterprises, and farm stands.

However, with this resurgence come many beginners learning to can and preserve food. Many home food processors use practices that put them at high risk for foodborne illness and economic losses due to food spoilage.

Follow Today’s Safety Standards

The only way to ensure safe food is to follow to the letter the most up-to-date, tested, science-based methods for safe food handling, processing, and preparation, such as those provided by the National Center for Home Food Preservation, based at the University of Georgia.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) is where all canning companies and consumers can go to find current research and education on home food preservation.

The center helps develop and disseminate current science-based advice on canning, freezing, drying, curing & smoking, and fermenting.

The advice and guidance of the NCHFP are considered the gold standards in home canning today.

Pickles by Chamille White/Shutterstock.
Chamille White/Shutterstock.

Stick to Current Methods and Recipes

Let go of that cherished family recipe for water-bath canned mincemeat. Don’t use the books and recipes you’ve relied on since the 1970s. Even books from a few years ago may contain information that won’t pass muster by today’s food-safety standards.

For example, tomatoes were always considered acidic enough (pH below 4.6) to process safely in a boiling-water bath. But a few years ago, researchers found that many of the varieties they tested, including some old favorites, weren’t acidic enough for safe water-bath canning and began recommending that home processors can tomatoes in a pressure canner and always add bottled lemon juice, powdered citric acid, or vinegar to each jar of tomato product before processing. See the Almanac’s Pressure Canning Guide to learn how to can foods safely.

Whether you’re taking to the canning kettle, the food dehydrator, or the big freezer for the first time or consider yourself a seasoned vet, make your big effort pay off as you package up summer flavors. Keep it from spoiling and keep it safe.

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About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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