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3 Very Common Canning Questions

Canning 101 Q & A:

Canning 101As more people are learning how to can, I get a lot of Canning 101 type questions over on my Canning Blog at Growing A Greener World TV and also on Facebook – which is awesome! No question is too small and I am glad to help out. But with over 100 Q& A in the comment section of those posts or a fast moving FB thread, many answers can get lost in the shuffle. This is especially obvious when the same questions are being asked over and over in different ways.

So here are three of the top questions I get asked repeatedly. Obviously, they are common concerns. Maybe they are your concerns as well?

Loose Canning Rings

Q: Loose Rings?

“I just made a batch of pickles and I followed everything exactly. When the jars cooled, I noticed that the rings on the jars were loose even though all the lids were sucked down and sealed. Are my jars okay?” ~ Lisa B.

A:

Absolutely! The jars are fine. The rings are usually loose after processing and this is perfectly normal. In fact, you should remove the rings after your jars are completely cooled – (See this post for more information on why the rings should come off). The ring is only needed to align the lids properly onto the jar and to hold them in place during the canning process. After that, the rings are not needed. Sounds like you did everything correctly. Good work!

Canning Headspace

Q: Too Much Headspace?

“I just made a batch of jam and while most of my jars had the perfect 1/4 inch headspace, a few of them ended up with 1/2 inch headspace. They sealed, but are they still good?”   ~Anne S.

A:

Yes, they are still good but you need to eat the jars with the larger headspace first. Here’s why:

The headspace (the space between the top of the food and the top of the jar) is specified in a recipe for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it dictates the length of time needed for processing to expel the air/gases from that volume of space and give you a specific atmospheric pressure of vacuum. If you have too much headspace, your vacuum seal can be compromised.

In other words…Too much headspace can mean a weak vacuum seal which means you are more likely to get a seal failure the longer that jar sits on the shelf. The jars are perfectly safe while they are sealed. Just eat them first as they may not last as long on the shelf.

Q: The “Ping”?

“I was doing a water bath jam recipe and I filled my jars with hot food, wiped the jars and added my hot lids and rings. As I was preparing the last lid, several of the jar lids “pinged” before I even put them in the water bath. Does that mean they are sealed? Do I still need to process them?”   ~Tammy S.

A:

The “ping” (which is the sound the lid makes when it sucks down in a vacuum) by itself does NOT mean a jar has a strong enough seal to sit on the shelf. External fluctuations in temperature can cause “the ping” with just a minimal change in atmospheric pressure. In your case, the ping only means that some of the gases in the jar escaped – just enough to pull down the lid, but not enough to be shelf ready. You MUST still process them in the water bath for the designated time or they are not considered “canned”.

Yes, people skip the water bath sometime and yes, the jars still seal. Since we are talking about jams or pickles, there is no fear of botulism. But our goal here is to prolong the shelf life of food without molds and to do that, you need to process it in a water bath.

See, here is the thing many people don’t understand…

The water bath process does not JUST create the vacuum seal. It also brings the internal temperature up to a certain level and keeps it there for a sustained amount of time and this is needed to kill the molds and bacteria that cause spoilage. Molds used to be considered harmless, but actually some have been shown to be carcinogenic. We certainly don’t want that in our food. So, for the food to store safely on the shelf, it must be processed according to the water bath recipe.

I have had completely empty jars “ping” while sitting in my hot car. But the seal is not a strong vacuum and even it was, it would not have killed all the bacteria needed in your case. So bottom line?  You still need to process your jars according to your recipe.

What about you?

Got any burning canning questions you need answered? Ask away…

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.