With food and fuel prices on the rise, many Rogue Valley residents are trying to save money the old fashioned way — by planting new gardens and buying locally in bulk when prices are low. To maximize their savings, many more people are canning, freezing, fermenting and drying their harvests. But in the case of canning, it's safety first.
"Food preservation is a science not a creative art" ... so follow the directions," says Jackson County Extension home economist Donna Crosiar. Following instructions prevents the worst from happening. Foodborne disease is more common than you think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it causes approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States annually, so proper food handling is essential. Save summer's bounty safely with these guidelines.
"All equipment should be washed and sanitized in the dishwasher just before you're about to use them," says Marilyn Moore, Ashland author of Is It Safe to Eat in Your Kitchen? Don't forget your towels, aprons, pot holders and hands. She suggests giving non-porous surfaces a bath in hot soapy water. Then spray with a solution of one teaspoon bleach for one quart water, let dry and rinse with clean water. Not only should your kitchen items be pristine, but the produce as well. Clean produce with drinking water just before you plan to use it. A quick rinse with the kitchen sink sprayer suffices to clean delicate fruits and berries. Still dirty? Then wash produce with vinegar or food-safe soaps.
"Use water bath canning for fruits, jams, jellies, pickles and tomato products, following current USDA guidelines," Crosiar says. All other vegetable and meat recipes require pressure canning. Before using a pressure cooker, make sure the gauge is functioning properly. Get it tested for accuracy at the extension center (569 Hanley Rd., Central Point). And remember to increase processing time with your elevation.
Canning salsas improperly can be disastrous. "Salsas are low-acid, so don't cut or change the recipes," Crosiar says, "People believe that any salsa they make can be sealed in a jar and that's just not the case. It's botulism waiting to happen. Make sure you read the label and use vinegar with five percent acidity [not four percent like rice vinegar]," she says. If you're looking for a change from distilled white, try a red or white wine vinegar. Add acid to the jars before the tomatoes, and if desired, add sugar to offset the tartness.
Harness sun power
Create gourmet treats by removing moisture from fruits and vegetables. For the best result, start with perfect, ripe produce sliced in thin, uniform slices. Dehydrating tomatoes? Choose cherry or Roma tomatoes, cut in half and placed cut side up on a large, clean screen (or electric dehydrator) and season with sea salt, oregano or basil and cover with another screen. Produce dries in about four, but as many as ten days. Store these rich, flavorful tomatoes, moistened in oil and fresh garlic in the refrigerator for a few weeks. Since olive oil and garlic can create the ideal environment for botulism spores, Moore suggests, "Always add an acid stabilizer in garlic and oil mixtures. And never use a product if it has an off color or has an off odor, [botulism doesn't]."
If food preservation is your objective and serving treats is your goal, then food safety should be your priority. Specific questions can be answered by Family Food Education volunteers at the OSU Extension Service (776-7371). "If I have a food preserving question, I ask them," says Sharon Johnson OSU professor. "And the office is full of food safety and food preservation materials."