We have all had our share of canning disasters. Sometimes those canning disasters can threaten to destroy all of your hard work, other times they can discourage you from wanting to try canning ever again. The worst mistakes can make you sick. Canning is not difficult but there is some amount of exactness to it that can cause the smallest thing to upset the entire process.
Beginners can easily be discouraged by what they believe are the dangers of canning, or because they cannot fathom what mistake they might be making and become discouraged. There is no reason to be discouraged though, these mistakes can easily be avoided with just a bit of practice and knowledge.
Canning Mistakes You Might be Making and What to Do about Them
1) Using a Water Bath Canning for Low Acid Foods – Many people are confused about what a low acid food is, they reason why a pressure canner is necessary, and why it is that others have “successfully” canned low acid foods in a water bath canner. I have heard a number of beginners make the assumption that because soup is a water not dense food that it is ok to do in a water bath canner. Density has nothing to do with why you use a pressure canner. The boiling point of water is lower than the 240 degrees needed to kill off the botulism spores that can live in low acid foods. A water bath canner simply cannot kill off these spores. Keep in mind as well, that botulism is rare, so because you know those that have “successfully” water bathed canned does not mean that yours will be safe. Food borne illnesses and the bacteria that cause them are on the rise, so it is much better to be safe than to risk the possibility that you will get sick. Make sure that you know what a low acid food is, and that you can all such foods in a pressure canner.
2) Bottoms Broke on My Jars – Nothing is worse than opening up your canner just to find out that one or more of your jars broke during the processing time. This beginner mistake is one that can definitely be avoided. When you put hot jars in a cool canner, or cool jars in a hot canner the glass on your jars can break. Try to make sure that your jars are hot and that the water in the canner is at a simmer.
3) Jars that Don’t Seal – This happens, and no matter how careful you are there will always a few jars that do not seal properly. But if you have an entire batch of jars that did not seal, or it happens too frequently then it is time to look at what you might not be doing. First it is important to inspect all jars, lids, and rings. Nicks in the jar, dents in the rings, or imperfection in the lids can cause a jar not to seal. You should even inspect new jars, because it is not unheard of for them to come out of the box with chips in them. Make sure you are cleaning the rims of the jar where the lid touches, bits of food can also interfere with the seal. Finally make sure that you have the proper headspace, too much and it can affect the vacuum in the jar and cause it not to seal.
Make sure that you check the seals on your jars after they have been processed. It can take a bit of time for the seal to complete, but if it has not sealed by the time that the jars are cool, you can either refrigerate the jar or you can reprocess it. To reprocess it, remove lid and ring, discard lid, and inspect ring. Inspect jar for nicks and clean the rim of the jar. Use a new lid and replace the ring. Process according the recipes guidelines.
4) Leakage During Processing – Leakage is a common problem for beginners. If the color of the water in your canner is changed, or there is sticky residue on your jars, then you have a leakage problem. There are three reasons for leakage. Your jars may be too full and not have the required head space, food swells during processing and will leak if there is no extra room. The pressure in the canner may also have varied too much, this happens when beginning canners panic when the pressure goes a bit too high, they may turn the heat off in order to release it quicker. This causes the pressure to plummet too fast, and then the heat is turned on and the pressure again goes up. It is better to make small changes to the pressure, and watch it carefully until you get a feel for the canner and the stove. Finally if you try to open the canner too soon, this can cause liquid to blow out of the jars. New canners have safety mechanisms that prevent this, but some of the older canners can be opened too soon. Allow the pressure to reach zero before trying to open the canner. The good news is that low liquid levels will not harm your food, although it looks unsightly, your food is perfectly save and good to eat.
5) Jam Does Not Set Up Properly – Again this is a very common mistake and one that is easy to make even if you are not a beginner. There are number of reasons why this might occur, sometimes there is no good reason, and it just happens. But these jars make great syrup for ice cream or pancakes so don’t despair. If you have this problem a lot, it is time to look at what you might be doing wrong. The most common reason jams do not set is straying from the recipe. Jam recipes are set very carefully to use the natural pectin in the fruit, and must have a specific amount of sugar in them. Straying from the recipe always ends badly. There is no place in the kitchen where accurate measuring is more important than when making jams and jellies. Jams and Jellies can be remade if they do not set up. Simple add 1 tablespoon of water, 1 teaspoon of powdered pectin to a pan. Bring to a boil and stir constantly to avoid scorching. Add 8 pints of unset jam or jelly and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Boil hard for 30 seconds. Refill jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Seal in jars and process according to the original instructions.
6) Jars Unseal When Stored – This is a problem that every canner faces, and one of the reasons why you need to stay aware when using your canning stores. If a jar is not sealed when you pull it off the shelf it is time to throw the contents away. If you are having this problem too frequently it is time to think about what you might be doing. Food trapped under the lid can be the cause of this, and can be prevented by cleaning the rims properly and avoiding leakage.
You may also need to make sure you are following all instructions exactly. If you have under processed the food in the jars, the jars may not seal properly. Make sure to process food for the full amount of time. Make sure that foods are not packed too tightly, this can cause expansion that can cause seal failure. Seal failure can also be a sign of food spoilage. Make sure that you are sterilizing everything before you begin, and that you clean jars after they are done processing and have cooled.
7) My Fruit or Tomatoes Are Floating at the Top – This is nothing to worry about. If you raw pack your fruit, it shrinks slightly, and floats on top of the syrup. If you want your jars to look pretty, than simply use the hot pack method instead and make sure to pack your fruit as tight as possible without smashing it.
8) Pickling Problems – Shriveled pickles are common when canning whole pickles. This is often a cause of too much sugar being added at one time. This is another reason to follow your recipes closely and to the letter. This problem may also occur if you do not prick cucumbers with a fork before adding them to the brining liquid. This allows the brine to penetrate the cucumber which helps to plump the cucumber up.
Soft limp pickles are most often caused by cooking them too long. Choose refrigerator pickle recipes or those that have minimal cooking times and water bath times.
9) Food Discoloration – Storage of your jars is an important thing to consider, if your jars are exposed to too much heat or sunlight discoloration can occur. A Dark cool location such as a dry basement is idea for your canning. Discoloration may be unappetizing but it does not harm the food and it can still be eaten.
10) Rusted Lids and Rings and Mold around the Seal – Nothing can be more disappointing than heading to your basement and finding that the lids and rings around your jars are rusting and that there is mold appearing around the lid. This can be avoided with a few simple steps. Few of us have ideal places to store jars, so if your basement is damp a dehumidifier can help. Even more important is to prevent this problem by proper storage. Before storing jars, make sure to wash them down with hot soapy water. Remove the rings and wipe carefully around the seal to make sure that any leakage is cleaned up. Dry jars thoroughly or let them air dry, and then store without the rings. This will allow for properly air flow, and will prevent dampness from getting trapped in the ring causing rust.
(c) Can Stock Photo