Jody’s Question: I’m having a problem with getting over my squeemishness of food preservation. I read a bit in the post about preserved lemons that really hit home with me: the ‘modern scaredycat-ness’ bit. As I move more and more into canning and such, I find that I really don’t know anything about storage times as I have been relying on canned food from store shelves. I’ve actually found myself standing in front of my basement pantry, staring at my canned tomato sauces as if I’m waiting for them to sprout horns and go
‘mwahahaha!’ There is a lot of conflicting information, too. You should boil canned jelly for 5min (according to Ball), but no one I know does. You need to pitch everything canned after a year, but no one I know goes by this, either. One of my coworkers keeps her eggs on the counter, not the refridgerator. We recently bought our first jug of raw milk, and I realized that I have no idea how long it might be good for. I’m just really thrown by all this. Any thoughts or suggestions?
(Note: We got a little long-winded here but the information is hopefully something everyone will enjoy.)
Alan’s Answer: Great question. We can a lot at my house. Mostly we use the Ball book or the info that came with the canner as a guide on times, pressures, and canning
methods. High acid stuff in a water bath, everything else gets pressure canned. We have never had any problems. We have had the odd jar that didn’t seal properly and things went bad, but the cause was almost always a flaw in the rim of the bottle or not wiping things down well enough before capping. We don’t keep things much longer than a year, but that is because we plan things that way. We know about how much we use of the things we can and don’t put up much more than that. If there is a bit left when the next canning session rolls
around it gets placed at the front of the shelf so it gets used first. With most things we do small batch canning. Tomatoes, for example, we will pick and save enough to can a batch of sauce or stewed tomatoes and then to one batch. That way it gets done in a short time, no one gets burned out, and we use the harvest as it comes in. Most things we grow our selves can be done this way. The three day marathon canning sessions I grew up with put up a lot of food, but things got pretty sloppy as the days wore on, and it stopped being fun. We are pretty obsessive about keeping things clean. Clean hands, hair nets (beard net for me), clean counters, sterile bottles, etc. We label and date the things we can or freeze (we freeze a lot
of stuff too). That way we know how old it is and what it is. We have never boiled jelly. If the bottles are sterile, the jelly making process should kill of everything else. We used to put wax on the top when I was a kid, but lately we have just put a lid on while things were still hot. That seems to seal it pretty well. It never stays around long enough to go bad anyway. We keep our eggs on the counter most of the time (except in the summer when it gets too hot in our house). The eggs we sell get refrigerated after they are cleaned, but that is mostly for convenience rather than safety. I’m not sure I would do the same with eggs I bought from the store. I know my chickens are healthy, eating good food, etc. I know how old the eggs are, how they were cleaned, if the shells are cracked, etc. I’m comfortable with keeping our eggs this way and we haven’t had any problems. Some of our egg customers do the same. I
wouldn’t do this with eggs from the store. I don’t know their history, handling practices, health, etc. Same with milk. Raw milk is great, we drink it all the time, but you need to know the source. Living in PA it is legal for dairies to sell raw milk. I’m sure there is an inspection process, so it should be as safe (probably safer) than the pasteurized milk. When I was selling raw milk in Texas the inspector would only let us hold it for 4 days. They figured people would use it in 7 to 10 days and that kept it in the 2 week safety window. At home I’ve held milk longer for cheese making and other things. I haven’t had any problems, but I always encourage people to use it in a week or less. If you don’t use a lot of milk, buy a smaller bottle and get it more often. I’d encourage you to try some canning. It’s fun. Start with small batches of things you will use. No point in a pantry full of something you wont eat. Once you get used to the process and start enjoying the quality of home canned food then expand to include other things you grow, or can get locally. We do lots of sauces, soups, and partial meals to speed dinner prep time. It’s not much effort to can a two month’s supply of soups and sauces, and they sure beat anything you can find at the store.
Nita’s Answer: Jody, that is so funny, I am actually sqeamish about food from the store! I agree there is a lot of conflicting information, especially on the internet. I think the most basic thing to focus on is learning what are low acid foods, and which are not. All foods can spoil, but fruits, and products made from them will look or smell spoiled. The low acid vegetables and meats and foods made from them could contain botulism (but not likely if safe home preservation practices are used) and might not be so obviously spoiled, that is why the cooking before tasting is recommended. As for shelf life, if your canned food is stored away from light and kept at a cool, stable temperature, it would be perfectly safe to eat for many years. I am not advocating canning 10 years worth of tomato sauce, though, just saying it would be safe to eat. Over time some nutritional value would be lost though. Freezers are a different story, best for more short term storage of food. Quality goes downhill fast in the freezer for vegetables and fruits, and a little slower for meats and fats. As for dairy and eggs, I don’t wash or refrigerate my eggs, and during the summer I keep them in our cool basement. Our raw milk easily keeps two weeks. Raw milk from healthy dairy animals should easily keep that long, and that is for drinking, after that time the milk will sour, or clabber and just becomes a delightful cooking ingredient, adding flavor and nutrition to baked goods etc. I grew up on sour cream cake, and it tastes nothing like sour cream cake from a bakery. Homogenized milk from the store will not sour, it will spoil and not be a useable product. One thing to worry about though may be soft cheese made from raw milk, it will have a shorter shelf life and should made in small amounts and consumed. Hard aged cheeses from raw milk are safe though because they are more acidic. Hope this helps a little bit – it sounds like you are on your way. You just need to quit listening to those sinister canning jars on your shelf! :)
Kathie’s Answer: The other writer’s did such a great job that I don’t have much to add, beyond make sure you have up-to-date books in your library for reference and follow their procedures and you’ll be as enthusiastic as the rest of us about home preservation. I love the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and recommend it all the canning classes I teach, in case you need a suggestion.
Monica’s Answer: Your question I believe will probably resonate with many readers—so as usual I have to say “great question!”. First…let me start off with the fact that I think there are a number of issues that cause us to be so scared of our food. One of the most common is that big business has worked very very hard over the years, preying on our lack of knowledge of how our food gets to us and other misinformation that people “acquire”, to get consumers to buy their products and not produce their own—or eat grandmas. However, some people believe that our fetish for pasteurization can lead to complacency. Why? Because some producers of foods or products that will go on to be pasteurized are less careful about cleanliness because they feel they do not have to worry. Some people (and rightly so I believe) feel more afraid of eating processed deli meats than of raw milk purchased from a diligent farmer. Whatever the reason— many of us have become wary of our food. Even those of us that produce our own food find ourselves falling into these odd traps on occasion—as mentioned in my article about the lemons. So..here is my reply to your questions. First…always remember that cleanliness and proper storage will do loads for keeping molds, bacterias and fungus out of your food supply. I do not mean cleanliness in “boil everything” but common sense cleanliness of washing our produce when we bring it in and before canning it to remove any soil born pathogens, cleaning our equipment well and washing our hands. Plain ole’ soap and water does wonders. Milk and dairy products: Raw milk IF produced in a clean manner is nothing to fear. That does not mean that the milk has to come from a white washed and cement floored barn either. Nor does the goat or sheep stand have to be made of metal—it can be wood—or that the farmer should never milk his cow over a hay floor. However…everything that touches the milk should be scrupulously clean. All teats on the cow are cleaned really well before milking (no manure or mud chunks hanging off the cow during milking thank you very much—which I have seen in both home and commercial dairies). Goats and sheep should be trimmed so their hair/fleece does not dangle into the milk and udders washed if needed. Pails should always be cleaned and beyond that regularly sterilized with boiling water or steaming or an acid washed. Milk storage containers should be sterilized at least every few times of use—and washed very well in between. Why do all this? Is it because raw milk is more likely to carry germs? Not any more so than pasteurized milk—though “they” would like you to believe that it does. However….as with all things we are going to eat… we should be clean during preparation of our food products. When do you know it’s bad though: Well, if you keep it long enough…it will sometimes taste funny or look odd. Funny is relative since it can taste funny if the cow/goat/sheep eats something odd. But “funny” as in garlic chives is different than kind of funny from it culturing. Raw milk does not go bad in the same way as pasteurized milk does (which actually tastes really ICKY and is why most people say “spoiled” when speaking of it). Raw milk actually has bacteria eating the natural sugars in the milk and slowly turns the milk into a more acidic environment—basically the start of cheese or yogurt or other cultured foods. Just as drinking pasteurized milk gone out of date will not kill you—neither will raw. (Using common sense of course –if it has mold or something like that floating in it you won’t want to drink it) Some people even still bake with their “bad” RAW milk —it’s fine to use it like that. Do remember also that many products now made with pasteurized milk were traditionally products that were left out for a day or two on the counter to form on their own: Clabbered milk (http://www.practicallyedible.com/edible.nsf/pages/clabberedmilk) Piima, Kefir, starters for cheeses etc. Only in this day and age are many of these products pasteurized before making instead of allowing natural airborne microbes to help out. Lastly I have kept and used store bought buttermilk for months past when it was meant to be used. As long as it does not have mold on it or smell rotten—it is fine to bake with (the only way I use it). Canned foods. Believe it or not home canned foods are no different than commercial canned. Except they taste better. Some common sense things are use clean jars (some people always boil them first —I just make sure their really clean and well rinsed in hot water) and clean utensils, then processed for the correct amount of time. Of course vitamin/mineral content could fade a bit over time which is one of the best reasons to eat them by the next season for any product. If you find that you have say …too many jars of pickled figs…the clue is to can less of them the next year and maybe do more dried figs instead. Meats generally last longer than say..green beans…but everyone seems to agree that 2 years is a good limit for canned produce—store bought or home made. Though tuna is for sure still at least 5 years later and many older people will tell you stories of eating jars/cans of items 4, 5 or more years old. One more thing. Of course we all know not to eat from badly rusted cans or blackened jar nor do we eat “bubbly”, stinky, or slimy food items if we find that when they are opened. However…when it comes to botulism it is either there or not. Hopefully not —which is generally the case when following clean canning methods and proper treatment of food along with proper canning procedures and times—all which sound much more complicated than they are. Botulism will not all of a sudden show up in your canned item because the 12 month bell tolled. If it’s there—it was already there on day 2. Truthfully—and I have known lots of canners—I have never yet met one that got sick from eating canned food. However…they follow the common sense of “if it looks bad, throw it out” philosophy. Other than that if you are canning low acid foods—use a pressure canner so you don’t have to worry or wonder. And when doing higher acid foods like pickles just make sure you have a vinegar with that is labeled at 5% acid or has been tested to be at least 5% acid. Jams/jellies well…I always boil mine to thicken anyway. Besides, I am old enough to remember when jellies and jams were capped with hot wax. I remember the occasional jar coming to the table —peeling off the wax (which I loved to do) —and finding mold. Always..my mother or grandmother scraped off the mold and we proceeded to eat it. Now…could we have gotten sick? Maybe. But we were healthy and we didn’t. Just an example and by no means encouraging anyone to scrape mold and eat the jelly :-D Beyond that…you can search on the subject of food storage and stocking up. Grains/flours/beans along with many other food items last years and years. Most of the survival types sites and the LDS church sites can help you determine how long most commonly used pantry items last in storage. Here is a very good link for extensive food storage information: http://www.abysmal.com/LDS/Preparedness/ The first link on this page is for a LDS Preparedness Manual download. The manual has TONS of good food storage, how to store, how long to store and what to store information. Eggs…well we often do eggs as your co worker. Especially in the winter I will store them on the counter to save room in the fridge. On a hot summer day when it’s 85 and I don’t have the a/c on—I’m less inclined to do that though I have heard in some countries they will last in those types temp for 6 weeks at least. Eggs are good for at least a month past when you buy them in the store and are supposedly already 2 to 4 weeks old before getting there anyway. They will definitely last longer if collected fresh by you or a friend since you won’t waste those weeks getting them delivered. Since we don’t eat many eggs we sometimes have them in the fridge for a long time. We sell the freshest and keep the oldest for ourselves. When it’s been a while (way over a month) since I used them and I have forgotten how long they have been in there, I crack in a separate bowl just to look at it. If by chance an egg is bad—which has never happened to me—-it would give itself away by the smell or looks. Again—nutrition wise it’s better to use sooner rather than later but….. a rotten egg gives itself away and you won’t ever forget it. I have only ever found those in the nests that are abandoned after the baby chicks hatch. Everyone in our family hates cleaning the old nests because the stench is so very very bad—and the eggs like hot little grenades waiting to pop. I know all this can’t completely help you decide if something is bad but maybe you will feel more comfortable trying a new technique of food storage in the future knowing that many of us “risk our necks” daily eating all that non governmental approved and non pasteurized food items :-D
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