Home Canned Foods
Testing Jar Seals
These three options are for two-piece metal lid system with a flat lid and a ring band. If you use another type, follow the manufacturer's directions for determining if jars are vacuum sealed.
After cooling jars for 12 to 24 hours, remove the ring bands and test seals with one of the
Option 1: Press the middle of the lid with a finger or thumb. If the lid springs up when you release your finger, the lid is unsealed.
Option 2: Tap the lid with the bottom of a teaspoon. If it makes a
dull sound, the lid is not sealed. If food is in contact with the underside
of the lid, it will also cause a dull sound. If the jar is sealed correctly,
it will make a ringing, high-pitched sound.
Option 3: Hold the jar at eye level and look across the lid. The lid should be concave (curved down slightly in the center). If center of the lid is either flat or bulging, it may not be sealed.
Reprocessing Unsealed Jars
If a lid fails to seal on a jar, remove the lid and check the jar-sealing surface for tiny nicks. If
necessary, change the jar, add a new, properly prepared lid, and reprocess within 24 hours
using the same processing time. Headspace in unsealed jars may be adjusted to 1½ inches
and jars could be frozen instead of reprocessed. Foods in single unsealed jars could be stored
in the refrigerator and consumed within several days.
Storing Canned Foods
If lids are tightly vacuum sealed on cooled jars, remove ring bands, wash the lid and jar to remove food residue without disturbing the sealed lid; then rinse and dry jars. There may be food or syrup residues you might not notice with your eye. These residues can support the growth of molds (which are airborne) outside the jar during storage. Wash and dry ring bands to protect them from corrosion for future use; be sure to protect from moisture where they are kept. It is recommended that jars be stored without ring bands to keep them dry as well as to allow for easier detection of any broken vacuum seals. However, if you choose to re-apply the ring bands, make sure all surfaces are clean and thoroughly dry first.
If jars are stacked in storage, be careful not to disturb vacuum seals. It would be a good idea to not stack jars too high directly on top of each other; one manufacturer recommends no more than two layers high. It would be best to provide support between the layers as a preventive measure against disturbing the seals on the lower jars. Jars could be placed in boxes to be stacked, or use some type of a firm solid material across the jars as a supportive layer in between them.
Label and date the jars and store them in a clean, cool, dark, dry place. For best quality, store between 50 and 70 °F. Also for best quality, can no more food than you will use within a year unless directions for a specific food provide other advice.
Do not store jars above 95° F or near hot pipes, a range, a furnace, in an uninsulated attic, or in direct sunlight. Under these conditions, food will lose quality in a few weeks or months and may spoil. Dampness may corrode metal lids, break seals, and allow recontamination and spoilage.
Accidental freezing of canned foods will not cause spoilage unless jars become unsealed and
recontaminated. However, freezing and thawing may soften food. If jars must be stored where
they may freeze, wrap them in newspapers, place them in heavy cartons, and cover with more
newspapers and blankets.
Identifying and Handling Spoiled Canned Food
Do not taste food from a jar with an unsealed lid or food that shows signs of spoilage. You can more easily detect some types of spoilage in jars stored without screw bands. Growth of spoilage bacteria and yeast produces gas which pressurizes the food, swells lids, and breaks jar seals. As each stored jar is selected for use, examine its lid for tightness and vacuum. Lids with concave centers have good seals.
Next, while holding the jar upright at eye level, rotate the jar and examine its outside surface for streaks of dried food originating at the top of the jar. Look at the contents for rising air bubbles and unnatural color.
While opening the jar, smell for unnatural odors and look for spurting liquid and cotton-like mold growth (white, blue, black, or green) on the top food surface and underside of lid.
Spoiled low-acid foods, including tomatoes, may exhibit different kinds of spoilage evidence or very little evidence. Therefore, all suspect containers of spoiled low-acid foods, including tomatoes, should be treated as having produced botulinum toxin and handled carefully in one of two ways:
- If the swollen metal cans or suspect glass jars are still sealed, place them in a heavy garbage bag. Close and place the bag in a regular trash container or dispose in a nearby landfill.
- If the suspect cans or glass jars are unsealed, open, or leaking, they should be detoxified before disposal.
Detoxification process: Wear disposable rubber or heavy plastic gloves. Carefully place the suspect containers and lids on their sides in an 8-quart volume or larger stock pot, pan, or boiling-water canner. Wash your hands with gloves thoroughly. Carefully add water to the pot and avoid splashing the water. The water should completely cover the containers with a minimum of a 1-inch level above the containers. Place a lid on the pot and heat the water to boiling. Boil 30 minutes to ensure detoxifying the food and all container components. Cool and discard the containers, their lids, and food in the trash or dispose in a nearby landfill.
Cleaning up the area: Contact with botulinum toxin can be fatal whether it is ingested or enters through the skin. Take care to avoid contact with suspect foods or liquids. Wear rubber or heavy plastic gloves when handling suspect foods or cleaning up contaminated work surfaces and equipment. A fresh solution of 1 part unscented liquid household chlorine bleach (5 to 6% sodium hypochlorite) to 5 parts clean water should be used to treat work surfaces, equipment, or other items, including can openers and clothing, that may have come in contact with suspect foods or liquids. Spray or wet contaminated surfaces with the bleach solution and let stand for 30 minutes. Wearing gloves, wipe up treated spills with paper towels being careful to minimize the spread of contamination. Dispose of these paper towels by placing them in a plastic bag before putting them in the trash. Next, apply the bleach solution to all surfaces and equipment again, and let stand for 30 minutes and rinse. As a last step, thoroughly wash all detoxified counters, containers, equipment, clothing, etc. Discard gloves when cleaning process is complete. (Note: Bleach is an irritant itself and should not be inhaled or allowed to come in contact with the skin.)
Adapted from the "Complete Guide to Home Canning," Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539, USDA (Revised 2015), Guide 1, pp. 1-25 to 1-27.
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