Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Modifying Canning Recipes and Food Safety

Lets say that you have a canning recipe that says to process with the water bath method. Being the creative cook that you are, you want to make some modifications to the recipe. After all, having your own flair is what makes cooking fun. The only question is, " is it still ok to use the water bath method?"

The fact that the recipe says to use the water bath method means that the PH of the recipe is lower than 4.6. Anything with a PH higher than 4.6 must be canned with a pressure canner in order to ensure that any bacteria in the food is destroyed.

Now lets say that you want to add blueberries to your recipe. Fortunately the US Food and Drug Administration has a website that will tell the Approximate PH of Foods. If you look up blueberries, you can see that their PH is below 3.33. Since this is lower than 4.6, you are still safe to use the water bath method.

Assuming that you don't have a PH meter among your kitchen utensils, it is best to take a, "better safe than sorry," approach to recipes of unknown PH. In other words, if you add even one ingredient with a PH above 4.6, then assume that the whole recipe has a PH above 4.6.

Removing an ingredient can also be a food safety issue. For example if you look up the PH of tomatoes, you will see that it is in the range of 4.3 to 4.9. Tomatoes really straddle the line of what is safe to can with a water bath method. For this reason, many recipes for canning tomatoes call for lemon juice in order to add enough acidity to ensure safety. It wouldn't be wise to take the lemon juice out of the recipe. If a recipe calls for lemon juice, vinegar, or ascorbic acid (vitamin C), then do not remove or decrease the quantity of this ingredient.

A key to food safety is just to remember that if the PH is above 4.6 then you must use a pressure canner - not a water bath canner.


  1. Great tips!!! I was planning on canning some Peach jam today!!!

  2. This is so cool!!! I love learning about this!!

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  4. Charlotte-is sodium benzoate still being used as a preservative? When I was a kid my mom used it while making home-made jams.Can it be eliminated or is there a safer substitute?

  5. If Jam is properly processed in a water-bath, you should not need sodium benzoate. Some recipes (particularly older ones) call for different techniques, such as sealing the jar with paraffin wax, or sterilizing all of your equipment and then skipping the processing (this is called the open kettle method). Recipes that use these methods, should be updated. It is the processing in boiling water that kills the mold and other fungi, so the processing step is very important.

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  7. I've been looking and looking at canning - and alays fear I will poison someone! This is a very helpful blog - many thanks.

  8. I have an All American Pressure Canner (I love it!) which uses relatively little water to pressure can. I was wondering if I can pressure can high-acid foods that would otherwise just require hot water bath processing to avoid using/heating all that water?

    Thanks for the great informative blog!

  9. Using a pressure canner for low acid foods, would definitely not be a food safety issue. Basically you would be processing food at 240°F instead of 212°F. As long as you don't feel that the food tastes overcooked, go for it.

  10. I canned some applesauce (boiling water method) that was just apples and cinnamon. I don't know what kind of apples because they were from a tree in a family member's yard. Did I need to add lemon juice to ensure the safety of the sauce? I'm nervous now about eating it! It's only been a week, and I wonder if I should just move the jars to the freezer. Help! I also messed up some pickles by starting the boiling water when it wasn't above the tops of the jars (I'm really new at this), and they taste good but soggy. As long as the jars sealed, they should at least be safe for consumption, right?

    I don't see how to subscribe to comments. I'm at kitchenstew at

  11. Regarding the applesauce, relax. The PH of apples is below 4.6. They do not need lemon juice to be safe to can.

    As for the pickles, that is more complicated. The water bath does two things. It kills the mold and yeast spores. It also allows the jars to seal. Just because you accomplish one does not necessarily mean that the other was accomplished. It is possible for the food to get hot enough to seal the jar, but not hot enough to kill the mold spores.

    I don't know how many jars you canned but if you have enough refrigerator space, they should be safe in the refrigerator for a couple of months.

    It is also possible that you did kill all the mold spores and they are safe at room temperature. I can't say for sure. The problem is that I have know way of knowing for sure whether or not you were successful at that.

    I am not sure how to subscribe to comments either, but I am happy to email you.

  12. Thank you! I got the comment.

    I think the pickles should be safe (after reading more on your site and others), b/c I did process them for the 15 minutes they needed with water above the rims. I just need more practice to get them crunchy! Thank you so much!

  13. I am an experienced jam maker using wild blueberries from fields where I live.

    I have made jars 4 oz to 12 oz varying the water bath times.

    Taken on the 'gift of love role' of making wedding favors using those favor sized jars of 1.3 to 1.5 oz. in size.

    Anyone have a processing time for those sized jars?

    Wedding is May of 2010 so I have winter time to do make them.......

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