To Your Health: Gear up for a productive, safe canning season
By Leia Kedem/University of Illinois Extension
Here in the Midwest, home canning has been a way of life for many since before they could even remember. But home canning has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the past few years, thanks to Americans' increased interest in the local food movement and desire to be economical in the wake of our recession.
I confess, I never knew much about food preservation until I started working for Extension. I have now heard countless stories of people growing up watching their elders put up green beans, peaches and whatever else they could preserve. I am proud to say that I, too, am embracing the culture and have left my suburban ignorance behind.
As with learning any new skill, I can attest that it's pretty rewarding to feel that sense of mastery and self-satisfaction. Plus, you can share the love by gifting your delicious results to others throughout the year. Whether you have an abundance of produce from the garden or came across an amazing sale on strawberries and stocked up, preservation is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of food you've acquired at low cost. You may even be able to make some money back if you sell your items at farmers' markets in accordance with the Cottage Foods Act of 2011.
With the growing interest in personal health, home food preservation offers the option of addressing dietary concerns. No-sugar-added jams are excellent for diabetics, while salt-free vegetables are good choices for those with cardiovascular concerns. There is also the benefit of using few preservatives other than acid, sugar and/or salt in the recipe combined with the high temperature and pressure associated with processing.
Now before you get all excited, there are some things to think about prior to jumping on the bandwagon. The start-up costs of equipment and accessories may not be prohibitive, but will you have access to enough quality produce to make it worth it? Canning also takes planning, time and effort, so you need to weigh whether you can fit it in your schedule. Do you have enough storage space? You'll need plenty of cabinet or storage space that is relatively cool and dark. Finally, do you have the knowledge and skills?
Even for those who are seasoned pros, preservation recommendations have changed over the years. When I tell someone they shouldn't be canning green beans in a hot water bath, I often hear "well, that's how my grandma always did it" or "I've never gotten sick before."
If you don't follow current food-safety guidelines, it really is a toss-up. According to the CDC, 38 percent of botulism outbreaks since 1996 were from home-canned vegetables, where home canners did not follow instructions, did not use pressure canners, ignored signs of spoilage and were unaware of the risk. Botulism is no joke — poisoning can lead to paralysis and even death.
So whether you are just starting out or need to refresh your food preservation knowledge, I invite you to join me for "Yes! You Can: Preserving Safely." Besides receiving the latest, most up-to-date safety information, you will also be able get your dial-gauge pressure canner tested for accuracy. If you have a dial-gauge pressure canner, you need to get it tested once a year.
I will be offering this workshop at a variety of times and locations to get you ready for canning season:
— May 13, 1-3 p.m., Ford-Iroquois County Extension office, 916 W. Seminary Ave., Onarga.
— June 4, 1-3 p.m., Vermilion County Extension office, 3164 N. Vermilion St., Danville.
— June 9, 6-8 p.m., Champaign County Extension office, 801 N. Country Fair Drive, C.
Please note that canner gauge testing is not available on a drop-in basis. If there is sufficient demand, we will schedule additional sessions. You may also call surrounding Extension units for other nearby opportunities.
There is a $5 fee, which will cover the educational session and pressure canner gauge testing. Space is limited to 30 participants per session, so enroll now. To register for any session, call the Champaign Extension at 333-7672 or visit web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv.
Everyone is invited to attend. If you need reasonable accommodations to participate, please let us know.
Leia Kedem is a nutrition and wellness educator with the University of Illinois Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 333-7672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.