Elevation map of Missouri

AN ELEVATION MAP OF MISSOURI shows Christian County standing in a part of the Ozark Mountains with an elevation more than 1,000 feet above sea level. The elevation level is a factor in the process of canning foods.

Folks have been putting up home grown foods in the Ozarks well before my time. As the new University of Missouri Extension Nutrition and Health Specialist covering Christian, Stone, and Taney counties, I have had the pleasure of hearing numerous stories of the joy of using handed down food preservation methods. Along with these stories come many questions and concerns of safety. MU Extension is here to help.  

Extension is connected to USDA through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. USDA conducts all non-biased research on food preservation and Extension disseminates this information nationwide. All information distributed by Extension is research-based and only tested methods and recipes are distributed and recommended. These recipes and methods have been proven to be safe whereas the techniques and recipes handed down may not take in to consideration the latest research. Food preservation is a science and new research has led to new recommendations in the name of safety. Let’s look at some common concerns and considerations.

How often should I check my dial gauge?

A pressure canner with a dial gauge should be tested and inspected annually before the start of each canning season. Even new canners fresh out of the box can have inaccurate dial gauges. MU Extension offices statewide are able to test pressure canners for accuracy. Call your local Extension office to make an appointment to take the entire canner to the office for testing and inspection at no charge. Pressure canners with weighted gauges do not become uncalibrated and do not need to be checked for accuracy.  

Can I use my pressure cooker to can foods?

There is a difference between a pressure canner and a pressure cooker. Using pressure cookers is not recommended.  If the cooker does not have the capacity to hold at least four quart jars, it does not have the structural capability to pressure process low-acid foods safely and the risk of botulism is very high. Instant pots should never be used for canning, even if the manufacturer states that it is an option.

What’s wrong with oven canning?

Oven canning is extremely hazardous for a couple reasons. Product temperatures never exceed the boiling point so this process fails to destroy the spores of Clostridium botulinum and can cause the food to become toxic during storage. Also, canning jars are not designed for intense dry heat and may explode, resulting in serious cuts or burns.

My family always boiled lids, do we still need to?

Most folks know to always use a new lid (flat) but there is no longer a need to boil lids. In late 2017, the Ball Corporation released newly formulated lids, “Sure Tight”, which only require washing before use. Heating up the lids before putting them on jars could actually lead to seal failures. If using an existing stock of older lids, follow the directions on the package.

What is a Steam Canner mentioned on your publication GH1451?

Although new guidelines for safely preserving food in a steam canner were released in 2017, I have yet to encounter anyone in the public who has used one. These canners are designed for canning high-acid foods and use far less water than the water-bath method. An added benefit is that the steam canning process won’t heat up your kitchen as much which is always preferred on hot summer days.  

Does altitude really matter around here?

Most, but not all, of southwest Missouri is above 1,000 feet. Water boils at different temperatures as altitude increases on our Ozark hills. Lower boiling temperatures are less effective for killing bacteria. To assure safe food at higher elevations, process time and pressure must be increased. Living on a hill or in a holler will have different impacts on your canning process. Refer to MU Extension publication GH1454, available online or by calling your local Extension office, to help you determine the safest pressure and time for your harvest.  

In addition to publications, MU Extension has an online Home Food Preservation course which is now available for $30 any time through December 31. I can offer face to face workshops for $20/person on subjects such as pressure canning, steam canning, jams and jellies, salsa making, and pickling as classes fill. Space is limited and partner agencies are needed to host such classes. If you have canning questions, are interested in a class or in partnering, please contact my office at (417) 357-6812 or check out the MU Extension website.  

Remember, home canning is a science where accuracy is crucial for safe home canned products.  Leave the experimentation for your next skillet meal and stick to tested recipes and methods when canning.  For more information, tested recipes, and related events, see MU Extension online https://extension2.missouri.edu/

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