Current Home Canning Practices in the U.S.

E. L. Andress1, E. M. D'sa2, M. A. Harrison2, W. L. Kerr2, J. A. Harrison1, and B. A. Nummer1. (1) Dept. Foods and Nutrition Extension, University of Georgia, 208 Hoke Smith Annex, Athens, GA 30602, (2) Dept. Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia.

Paper 46B-3. Presented at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting Anaheim, CA, June 17, 2002.


Home canning is a traditionally popular means of preserving seasonal produce or specialty foods. The last comprehensive survey of practices conducted by USDA was in the 1970s. Significant lapses in appropriate techniques were documented and later survey reports by others have not revealed major shifts toward improved practices. Computer listservs and the large commercial book industry have the potential for more widespread sharing of traditional and possibly unsafe techniques than ever before.

The objective was to conduct interviews with individuals primarily responsible for household food preparation, to determine their activity level in home canning and use of critical safety practices.

Between October 24, 2000 and January 10, 2001, trained interviewers at the Survey Research Center, University of Georgia, recorded 135 complete telephone interviews from households randomly selected across the nation. The 38-item interview included questions about the respondent's source of canning instructions, methods used, types and quantities of foods canned, containers and equipment used, equipment testing procedures, success of canning procedures and spoilage.

Survey results indicated that friends or relatives (48%) and cookbooks (19%) were the most popular sources of canning instructions. Vegetables were canned by 71%; tomatoes/tomato products by 60%; and fruits by 47%. The boiling water canner was the most frequently used processing method with 58% and 39.5% using it to can fruits (including tomatoes) or vegetables respectively. A pressure-based canner was used by 34% and 49% using it to can fruits or vegetables respectively. Only 24% had the dial gauge on their pressure canner tested. Recommended jars were used by 74%. Only 5.2% reported spoilage of home canned foods.

Greater adoption of science-based home canning techniques is still needed by consumers, particularly in the selection of appropriate processing temperatures, equipment and supplies. Findings document practices and knowledge that should be targeted in educational programs.


Home canning has been a popular means of preserving seasonal produce or specialty foods for over a century. The level and type of related activity has shifted up and down throughout this time due to society and family economic conditions, war efforts, weather conditions and interest in duplicating what is available in the commercially processed food supply. Many of today's home canners are interested in being creative and view home canning as an art as much as a science (4). Though diverse recipes provide variety to people, the maintenance of safe practices in canning cannot be over-emphasized. If done improperly, home canning can lead to foodborne illness and even death, as well as economic losses from spoiled food.

Since the late 19th century, the USDA has published recommendations for home canning processes, pickling of foods, and sugar concentrates (jam and jelly products). Since that time the public as well as the Cooperative Extension System and home canning equipment manufacturers have continued to rely on the USDA for guidance. Scientifically-based methods for control of bacteria and calculation of sterilization processes for canned foods were developed in the first part of the 20th century. These methods and later refinements have been applied to the science of USDA home canning recommendations since the mid-1940s.

The number of books on home preserved specialties in the commercial printing industry, prevalence of listservs and other internet-based sharing of home canning directions, numbers of individual inquiries received by the Cooperative Extension System and other indicators support the fact that there are active home canners today (4). A review of these same sources, however, reveals that there is also transfer of non-scientific or high-risk directions for home canning and processing of foods occurring frequently.

The last comprehensive surveying of home canning practices conducted by USDA was in the 1970s (1,3). Significant lapses in appropriate techniques were documented at that time. More recent information about home canning practices has only been obtained from other sources in limited amounts (2,4). Because there is evidence that people are canning food at home (2,4) but there is little recent documented information on their actual practices, a national survey seemed in order.


To conduct a national survey of U.S. households routinely practicing food preservation techniques:


The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) at The University of Georgia (UGA) developed a questionnaire and contracted with the Survey Research Center at UGA to conduct a national telephone survey. The survey instrument was comprised of 38 closed or open-ended (5) questions aimed at obtaining detailed information about individuals' home canning practices plus additional questions on home freezing practices. Respondents were provided with the option of choosing more than one appropriate response for some questions. The study conducted 501 interviews from randomly selected households across the nation, with all households having a near-equal chance of being selected for inclusion in the sample. Between October 24, 2000 and January 10, 2001, a total of 5,259 numbers were called; and 1,244 eligible adult interviewees were contacted. The final cooperation rate was 40.3% (501 interviews). The 501 interviews yielded 135 complete interviews of those canning food at home. To insure quality control of the interviewing process, interviewers were trained, and approximately one-fifth to one-quarter of the interviews were monitored, thereby eliminating interviewer errors.


Who is canning?

What are their sources of information?

What are they canning and how?

Table 2. Amounts of various foods canned at home.
  % respondents (n=135) who canned quantities of
Food 1-10 pints 11-50 pints 51-100 pints >100 pints
Fruits 8 28 4 3
Tomatoes 10 33 7 4
Tomato sauce 7 10 1 0
Vegetables/Vegetable mixes 15 40 7 4
Soup mixtures 5 6 0 0
Pickles/Pickled vegetables 16 15 6 2
Pickled fruits 2 0 0 0
Jams/Jellies 22 27 2 0

Equipment Use and Management

Jars and Lids

Food Storage and Use

Practice % respondents (n=135)
Maximum time Home canned food is stored.
- More than 12 months 37
- 6-12 months 47
- Less than 6 months 14
How home canned vegetables are prepared and served
- Bring to a boil before using 38
- Boil uncovered for 10 min or more 33
- Warmed in microwave 16
- Serve 'as is' with no further heating 13
- Heat in an oven 6



  1. Davis, C.A., and L. Page. 1979. Practices used for home canning of fruits and vegetables. USDA Home Economics Research Report No. 43. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
  2. Getty, V. and Evers, B. 1997. Activity profile of home canners. Electronic Food Rap, Vol. 7(40). Accessed on June 1, 2002.
  3. Hatfield, K.M. 1981. Changing home food production and preservation patterns. National Food Review 27:22-25.
  4. National Center for Home Food Preservation. 1999. Information collected from the Cooperative Extension System, cookbooks and internet. Unpublished data. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia.

This material is based upon work supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 00-51110-9762.

Document Use:

Permission is granted to reproduce these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of reproduction) provided the authors and the University of Georgia receive acknowledgment and this notice is included:

Reprinted with permission of the University of Georgia. Andress, E.L., E.M. D'sa, M.A. Harrison, W.L. Kerr, J.A. Harrison and B.A. Nummer. 2002. Current home canning practices in the U.S. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension Service.

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National Center for Home Food Preservation
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The University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602-4356

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