Enjoy the "fruits" of your labor later by canning carefully now—you'll thank yourself this winter.
jars of jams

Summer's bounty is in full swing, and if you're inspired by the blueberries, strawberries, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other beautiful produce in your garden or local farmers' market, it may be time to start preserving. Pickling and canning are the most common ways to preserve food at home, whether you're reducing tomatoes into sauces or berries into jams. Then you can enjoy these tastes of summer in the depths of winter and beyond.

If you take the time and effort to make your own jams, jellies, pickles, and other preserved foods, there are a few food safety guidelines you'll want to be aware of so you create shelf stable foods that will be safe to consume for a while. First, make sure all of your equipment—including the jars, tops, tools (like spatulas and spoons), and cookware is properly sanitized to prevent bacteria from contaminating all your hard work.

How Long Jams, Jellies, and Preserves Last

Assuming all goes well, you'll be able to keep your home canned and jarred foods until next summer. "The guideline from the USDA is that all unopened home preserved food using the water bath or pressure canning method should be used within one year for the best nutritional value unless otherwise called out in the recipe," says Steve Galucki, who works in research and development for fresh preserving at Newell Brands, which owns Ball, the well-known glass jars for home preservation. "Home canning recipes are engineered to be shelf stable if all the process steps are followed correctly." And he notes, jams, jellies, and preserves all have the same shelf life.

These same rules apply for most sauces, and any other self-preserved goods. Keep them in a cool, dark place until ready to open, and label with masking tape or painters tape to remember their expiration. Be sure to store in the fridge once the seal has been popped.

Do Different Canning Processes Extend Shelf Life?

As long as you are canning correctly, both water baths and pressure canning work for shelf stability. The USDA recommends using a water bath or pressure canner for high acid foods (like tomato sauce, fruit jams, and pickles) and using a pressure canner for low acid or alkaline foods (like non-pickled vegetables) to maximize shelf life.

Quick Jam

If you're making fruit jam at home and skipping the canning process, what is often called quick jam or freezer jam, store in the fridge or freezer to preserve, and be aware that it should be consumed within 10 days if refrigerated and 3 months if frozen. It's not shelf stable without proper canning. For ultimate freshness, you need to transfer your cooked product to a sanitized jar for canning as quickly as possible.

Fermented Foods

Foods that are fermented, like pickles and kimchi, often ferment at room temperature, but should be transferred to the refrigerator once fermentation takes place. Canning can actually degrade the product inside the jar, which can safely (and deliciously) last at a cool temperature for months or longer.

The Best Way to Store Homemade Food Jars

"The USDA recommends storing jars between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit," says Galucki. "Higher than that can cause premature degradation of the food." Basements and cellars are a great place for this (assuming they're dry and not moldy), but the back of a pantry can work too. He suggests placing a thermometer in the area if you want to be certain the temperature is in the correct range.

Do not keep your homemade jams or pickles near any source of heat, such as hot pipes, a stove, or furnace, or in indirect sunlight. Any of these factors may cause the foods to lose quality in a few weeks or months, depending on the temperature.


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