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Home canning debate

I recently learned how to can and made some great jams, pickles, and preserves from excess fresh summer produce. But the first batch I made, I didn't boil or bake the mason jars before adding the preserves and sealing them. I washed them, added the contents, and then sealed in boiling water for at least 20 minutes.

Obviously there's the huge risk of botulism here, but knowing that I have been keeping these jars in the fridge (away from my properly canned and trustworthy deliciousness). Because they are refrigerated, I say that the preserves are fine. No different than, say, cooking something and leaving it in the fridge. But my sister says that the sealing process (20 minutes under boiling water), could make botulism grow and that, even though they've been in the fridge, I shouldn't touch them.

Which of us is right?

(Of course, now that they've been in the fridge for two months, I'm not even sure I want to go in there anymore, but that was a lot of delicious produce I'd hate to see go to waste, so advice requested).

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  1. What were you canning? That makes a pretty big difference.

    1. We were canning: plum preserves, sweet pickles, peach preserves, and orange-current preserves.

      1. Normally I'm the Voice of Doom where botulism is an issue but in this case, botulism isn't a risk assuming you used a reliable recipe that called for water-bath processing. [Edit] Or more precisely, not boiling the jars presents no additional risk of botulism. Sterilizing the jars beforehand may protect against some bacteria and molds, but it will never destroy botulism spores anyway, boiling water just isn't hot enough for that. Your preserves sound like high-acid ones, which are inherently safe from botulism even with simple water-bath processing.

        Botulism aside, I'm no expert but I'd personally go ahead and try them assuming the lids remained properly/tightly sealed.

        3 Replies
        1. re: MikeG

          Exactly this. Now if we were talking green beans and carrots, I might have suggested a new fridge! ;)

          1. re: MikeG

            Agree with the above. Assuming that you used a conventional recipe that is acidic, poured the hot liquid in 8-16 oz jars and processed immediately they should be fine. You essentially boiled the jar by processing for 20 min. I make small batches of preserves, put them in clean jars and just keep them in the frig. I use them over the next several months.

            1. re: MikeG

              Agreed. 20 minutes sterilized those jars - because 10 minutes will. But you should put your preserves into hot, sterilized jars next time.

              As long as you followed recipes re acid, check the seals and eat.

            2. One thing to keep in mind is the bacterium that causes botulism is very common in soil, but it is not typically floating around in the air (except maybe on a very windy day). If it gets into your jars of jam, it's coming in with the food being canned (or maybe your dirty hands if you were sloppy), not on the jars. Even if your jars were not perfectly clean, the worst thing likely to get into your jam is some random mold, which will ruin the taste, but not your day.

              Bottom line, washing the jars in a dishwasher, or thoroughly by hand is fine. 20 minutes processing seems a bit short if the contents were cold, but if they went straight from stovetop to jars, I guess that's ok if that's what the recipe says. As MikeG noted, if you can low acid, low sugar veggies, stovetop processing is not a good idea, but jams, preserves and pickles are ok.

              1. No worries....the official answer from the USDA is that the jars don't need to be sterilized if your process time is >10 minutes. http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/questions/FA.... Also, you should know you can NEVER get botulism from most canned fruit products or pickles because the pH is <4.6 for most fruits (except figs, I think) and a properly made pickle that has the right brine strength for natural fermentation OR using vinegar in the brine. You can, however get botulism from tomatoes.....their pH can be higher than 4.6 so you must always add acid to canned tomatoes processed in a boiling water bath. Everyone thinks tomatoes are more acidic than fruit and that isn't the case. Hope this helps!