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Preserving Food for Your Family

Sharon McDonald, Senior Extension Educator | Penn State Extension

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we think about food! We are more aware of where our food comes from and the complexity of the supply chain that gets food from the farm to our table. As a result, there is renewed interest in home gardens and home food preservation.

There are three basic home food preservation methods – canning, freezing, and drying. They each have their pros and cons and if you are thinking of preserving food this summer the first step to consider is the method that will best meet your needs.

First and foremost, you want to be sure that there are safe, research-based guidelines for preserving the food. Food preservation is a science and for a safe, quality product you need to follow recommendations that are proven to destroy microorganisms that will spoil food as well as cause illness. Also, consider your living space and how you will be able to store the food. Canning requires space to store jars in a cool, dark, dry environment. If you are going to freeze large quantities of food, you will need to invest in a stand-alone freezer which requires additional space. Canning and drying may require additional investment in equipment such as canners, jars, lids and for drying a dehydrator.

It is important to consider what your family will like and what the end use of the product will be. If your family only likes “fresh tasting” fruits and vegetables, then canning is probably not the best option. Additionally, some foods are better suited to one method of preservation over another. For example, there are no tested recipes for canning broccoli or cauliflower but for corn or green beans it really ends up being a matter of taste. Be sure to keep in mind the investment of time. While freezing food is relatively easy and quick, canning and drying require time in preparation and monitoring while the food is being processed. Extra hands in the kitchen are also a big help if you are preserving large quantities of food.

Penn State Extension is offering a series of webinars this summer focused on home food preservation to help new food preservers as well as seasoned food preservers understand not only the science behind home food preservation but also the methods and guidelines to follow to safely preserve food. Topics include an introductory webinar, as well other webinars focused on pressure canning, water bath canning, jams and jellies, pickling, fermenting, drying and many other topics. To see a complete list of webinars and to register visit http://extension.psu.edu/food-safety-webinars. For questions email Sharon McDonald at slm25@psu.edu or call 814-865-6953.

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