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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.

37 Comments:

  • Diane says:

    Some jam canning recipes just call for turning the jar upside down for 5 minutes instead of hot water bath. Is that a safe method?

    Nee to you page and love it. 🙂

    • theresa says:

      Hi Diane-

      Great question. What you describe is a form of open kettle canning and it is not considered a safe method. Yes, you get a seal, but not as strong of a vacuum is formed as with water bath canning. Also the jar and contents are not heated to the internal temperature recommended for killing some of the bacteria that cause spoilage and molds. Here is a link to a Penn State bulletin against open kettle canning: http://extension.psu.edu/food/preservation/news/2014/avoid-open-kettle-canning

      Yes, some people still do this. I do not.

  • brandy says:

    New to canning as well. My question is, I have several types of jars that I’ve collected over the years. Some are Ball others Mason. Do I need to buy rings and lids from each company to fit for each different jar or are they interchangable? Also could I just buy the store brand lids and rings, some stores like Kroger, Wal-Mart and Target offer their own canning products? Thanks for all the help.

    • theresa says:

      Hi Brandy,

      All the brand lids and rings are interchangable for the standard mason jars. Where you have to have special lids is when you get into the odd shaped jars like Weck with their special glass lids, rubber gaskets and clips.

  • Doris Small says:

    I WAS very interested in oven canning but I trust your judgement and will not be doing it. I would like to know if you can waterbath crackers, rice, flour, sugar etc. for long term storage.

    • theresa says:

      Doris – Hmmm…I looked through all my USDA regulations and all my Master Food Preserver training and everything we were taught says you can freeze or vacuum seal in plastic.

      So, my guess would be no – cannot water bath can those items. The main reason would be that you might get liquid inside your dry good during the submersion and water bath canning processing. ANY moisture would set you up for potential bacteria growth. Since all of those items are low acid, that moisture could also set you up botulism poisoning. In the case of sugar, the risk would be mold.

      Sorry I don’t have a better answer on that one.

      • Kathy Hutton says:

        Best bet is to use the vacuum seal lid from your food processor on jars with dry goods. It sucks out the air and seals the jars.

  • Aldis Russell says:

    I’ve had the ping happen with empty jars in my hot car as well. Does this mean that the lids should not be reused? When looking at the lids they seem to have a slight indentation on the seal. Not as indented as I usually see after a water bath but more indented than the seals that haven’t “pinged”. Thanks in advance!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Aldis,

      Yes, we are supposed to be able to use those jars that heated like that. I have had them seal in a hot car as well and work just fine later when I canned with them. Apparently, the indent from that is not as deep as a seal from full blown processing.

      • Renee Mustard says:

        What about the ones that have been warmed but did not get used because my yield wasn’t a large as I thought it would be?

  • Elizabeth says:

    I make my own enchilada sauce using dried chili’s, garlic and a few other spices. My question is how do I can this sauce, water bath or pressure cooker or neither? I’ve looked everywhere on the web but not found anything about canning this type of sauce. Thanks.

    • theresa says:

      Hi Elizabeth,

      I looked and you are correct. I did not see any enchilada sauce recipes in any of my canning resources. Odd, right? So, I suppose we need to look at the recipe to see what the acidity ratio is. Also, does it have any meat in it at all? I know some enchilada sauce has chicken broth. Any meat would mean it must be pressure canned. Is it just tomatoes and chili as the main ingredients? Does it have any acid (lemon, lime, vinegar?)

      If we can’t determine the acidity, I would consider freezing it. When you are talking sauce, the consistency from freezing does not change much.

  • Diane Mc says:

    I have a question about safe water-bath canning–I’ve tried googling this, but can’t seem to get a straight answer. I followed a recipe from the ball website for a salsa. Everything I hear about canning salsa is to be sure you follow the recipe to be safe. I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter (added a bit of oregano, and used only 2/3 the jalapenos as called for). However I ended up with nearly half again as much salsa than the yield indicated (the yield was 12 half pints, I had enough for 17-18). I’m pretty sure this was because my tomatoes were over-measured (I measured the correct amount, but since they were a bit soft, perhaps from the boil/peel step, I think they squished down too much, whereas the recipe accounted for air-space).
    Anyway. I went ahead and processed as usual, but now I’m all worried that I used too much tomato and not enough vinegar to safely water-bath process. Ugh. And I have LOTS of the stuff. Far too much to freeze…so:

    1. If I test the pH of an opened jar and find that it is below 4.6, does that mean I’ve done okay?

    2. More generally, are recipes made to allow for differences in how we chop and measure? I’d much prefer they used weight measures than volume, but maybe they do that because it isn’t all that critical? I do lab chemistry for a living, so maybe I overthink and overstress these things…

    Thanks for any help.

    • theresa says:

      Hi Diane,

      Sorry for the delay in answering. I have been in Seattle filming. It was too hard to answer this on my phone while standing in the middle of a farm field. LOL

      I do think that is a big discrepancy, so I would guess that it was as you suspected (your tomatoes squished down more).

      The jalapenos would would have been a concern as they are low acid. But since you used less than the recipe called for, we should probably only be concerned with the tomatoes.

      A recipe should be safe whenever you use a modern recipe (from the last 13 years) from a reputable source (Like Ball, USDA or a reliable book or blogger) and you measured exactly as the recipe called for in regards to the tomatoes and vinegar. Your situation falls into all of those categories. Ball recipes follow USDA guidelines and are very safe.

      Tomatoes only need a little bump in acid to be in the safe zone. They are right on the line safety wise. And you added vinegar and did not add extra veggies. You did it all correctly.

      To answer your specific questions:

      1) Yes, if your pH test says below 4.6 you are good to go. It is safe.

      2) Yes, most recipes are made to allow for differences and any USDA approved recipe gives a wide margin for error. Many people complain that they are too careful but given the amount of times people get close to the edge, I think it is a good thing.

      How do you know if your recipe follows USDA guidelines? It sort of all depends upon the source. In your case, it came from Ball and they do follow USDA guidelines. So you are good!

  • Brand new canner here…as in, just made my first batch of pickles yesterday! Two questions:
    1) Despite packing them tight, the pickles floated to the top, and some are above the brine. Most sites I’ve found say that it’s ok, just done eat the part above the brine. Is that true?
    2) I have a flat surface ceramic top on my stove. I didn’t have any trouble getting my water bath to boil, but I read that you can’t use this type of stove top for canning. Any truth to that?

    Aside from accidentally setting my funnel on the burner and melting it, all else went well!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Amy-

      Sorry for the delay in answering you. I have been out in the field filming and couldn’t write a proper answer on my phone. 🙂

      First, good for you for diving into canning! Sounds like you had success. Yeah!

      1) Don’t worry about the floating pickles. It happens to the best of us. There are many causes for this, but the bottom line is that the fruit has too much air in it and that is causing the float. In the future, try using regular mouth jars that come in at the top. It will help hold the pickles below the brine. Also, heating the pickles and doing a hot pack helps expel air from the fruit. And if you can wedge a pickle sideways at the top of the jar before putting 0n the lid, it will also help hold down the rest. Yes, the food above the brine is okay but it will discolor a bit and the texture will change. If you jar is properly sealed, it will not spoil.

      2) I wrote a whole post on using a ceramic top stove. It is over on our PBS website. Here is a link: http://www.growingagreenerworld.com/canning-on-electric-stove/ You should be able to water bath can on your stove. You will need to verify that you can hold a steady boil and it sounds like you did. Read the post for more info.

      Welcome to the world of canning. You will have so much fun!

  • Christian says:

    Hello! I am hoping you can give me a rough estimate on shelf life. We are about to start canning homemade broth, and I am wondering how long that broth will last (if canned properly in jars) in both the fridge, and if at all, in the pantry?

    Thanks in advance!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Christian,

      I am assuming you are pressure canning that broth, correct? You cannot water bath can it or you can get very sick due to the pH level of broth (It is low acid).

      If the jars are pressure canned properly, they should last 1 year on the pantry shelf.
      If you do not “can” the broth, but instead freeze it – then it will last one year in the freezer.
      If you do not “can” the broth, but instead put it in the refrigerator – it will last 5 days.

      If you pressure can the broth properly in jars and still want to refrigerate it, it will last 1 year in the refrigerator if not opened. But canning and refrigerating together sort of defeats the purpose of canning.

      If you are are worried it will come open while sitting and are thinking having it in the refrigerator will keep it safe, let me say this: If a sealed, pressure canned jar of broth loses its seal (comes open) while in the refrigerator, it will still go bad. The refrigeration will prevent botulism from forming. But it will not prevent the food from spoiling (just as other opened food inside the refrigerator would do after 5-7 days). I hope that answers your question.

  • Carol says:

    I like to can tomatoes from my garden for later use in soups and sauces. Even though I follow directions to the letter from the newest Ball canning book, the jars often overflow while being processed in the canner. Do you have any tips that would help this situation? Thanks!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Carol,

      This is an excellent question. But I need a bit more info to help you narrow down what the problem could be. Could you tell me the exact recipe you are doing in the new Ball Blue Book? Is it a hot pack or raw pack? Is it a whole tomatoes or stewed tomatoes or something else? It it water bath or pressure canned? If I could read the recipe, I may be able to help narrow down the issue.

      Without knowing anything else, I would “guess” it is water bath and may be the following:

      1) If jars are losing liquid while inside the canner: it is either a temperature differential issue, a filling issue, a boil issue or a bubble issue.

      If you were doing cold pack, switch to a hot pack so the contents are hot when they enter the canner. (Thick items do best if hot packed)
      If you were already doing hot pack, the jars may be either too full or the boil is too strong (meaning the temperature is too high and the are bubbling too violently inside the jar).
      I would also be extra sure you got all the bubbles out of the jars before processing. If the tomatoes are very firm, the spaces between the tomatoes disappear as the tomatoes soften during processing and the water level lowers tremendously.

      2) If the jars are losing liquid at the end or immediately as you remove them: it is a temperature differential problem. The temperature outside jar is too different from inside the jar and the contents try to escape. To solve this, you would let the jars sit inside the canner for 5-10 min before removing them.

      I hope that helps!

  • Max says:

    Hi, I just canned chili Verde for first time. Simmered veggie ingredients over 30 minutes, trimmed fat from pork and browed both sides first, so not too bad on fat content. To each quart jar i added little over half with meat. Two questions.. first I was tired and did 3/4″ (or less) heads pace instead of 1″. Whoops! Let them cool 10 mins after lid was off and I could see a few seeping liquid.

    Question 1, how likely are these to maitain a good long seal if they seal tight? I’ve read about grease under lid causing seal problems, but is that just sealing “at all” or does that also apply to being able to maintain a lobg-term seal?

    Question 2, what a PAIN browning meat for flavor & fat reduction!! So next batch is plain pork

  • Max says:

    Hi, I just canned chili Verde for first time. Simmered veggie ingredients over 30 minutes, trimmed fat from pork and browed both sides first, so not too bad on fat content. To each quart jar i added little over half with meat. Two questions.. first I was tired and did 3/4″ (or less) heads pace instead of 1″. Whoops! Let them cool 10 mins after lid was off and I could see a few seeping liquid.

    Question 1, how likely are these to maitain a good long seal if they seal tight? I’ve read about grease under lid causing seal problems, but is that just sealing “at all” or does that also apply to being able to maintain a lobg-term seal?

    Question 2, what a PAIN browning meat for flavor & fat reduction!! So next batch is gonna be plain pork cold pack. I’ve done 100’s of lbs cold pack chicken breast, but first time pork. So what’s the deal about concern that fat can become rancid in a sealed jar? Can’t find that on an Extension site, just blogs and is that really a conern? Some of this will be “prepping” food, so the conern is LONG storage for lets say 5 yrs.

    Your a wealth of information, glad I find your site! Thank you for the answers! 😉

  • christian says:

    Hi,

    I giving my plum jam the water bath treatment, but end up with some of the jars (kilner jars with hinged lids) sucking in water. In some cases very little water in some cases a lot. Is there something wrong with the lids? How can I avoid this happening? And, can I re-boil the jam and try again?
    Many thanks for your help/advise.
    Christian

  • glen sallee says:

    I just pressure canned 5 quarts of chicken thighs at 10 pounds pressure for 90 minutes. I pulled the weight off to let steam off when I turned flame off. I put jars on counter as soon as pressure hit 0. The lids are already down. Do I have a safe seal?

    Also, I had quite a bit of fat in the water In the pressure cooker. Will I need to reprocess? I am thinking there must be fat on the rim of the jars now.

    Thank you,
    Glen

  • Callandra says:

    I can’t seem to find this anywhere online – once I make my jam, can it sit in the jar for a few hours before I put it in the water bath? I have to set up a silly camp stove to do the processing ( I have a ceramic top stove) & sometimes it takes awhile to get the water up and boiling!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Callandra,

      Unfortunately no – You are not supposed to let the jars sit for a few hours before processing. This is because the processing times are based on the jars going into the canner piping hot from being cooked. If you put them in after they are cooled down two things would happen:

      1) The center of the jar might not be brought up to the proper temperature and held there for the specified amount of time needed to kill the spoilage bacteria. So you would be under-processing your jars.

      2) You always want to add hot jars to the hot water or there can be too much of a temperature deviation. In other words, the jars can crack or break from thermal shock. You always want to add hot jars to hot water.

      Could you cook the jam on your ceramic top stove but just have the water bath on the camp stove? You can use a smaller pot for the jam cooking and it should be okay. Also, here is a post I did on glass top stoves in case you need it: http://www.growingagreenerworld.com/canning-on-electric-stove/

  • Keri says:

    I have a question regarding raw pack canning poultry. I was wondering if you could explain why some canning recipes call for liquid and some say not to use any. When I first started pressure canning, I used a small 4 qt model, and the instructions that came with that device said to use liquid. I also have a Ball book from 2009 that says to use liquid when raw pack canning poultry. I recently purchased a 23 qt pressure canner, and the accompanying instructions said not to use liquid when raw pack canning poultry. Everything I’ve found online says not use liquid, but I can’t find anything that explains why liquid may or may not be needed. Can you clarify?

  • Great! Useful information. Thank you for sharing about this dish

  • Bruce says:

    Hello, Yesterday I canned/ Pickled my first batch of pickles and two things happened I hoped you would be able to explain to me. The headspace (originally 1/2″) seems to be larger after processing and the pickles are floating causing the pickles at the top rest above the brine. Will the pickles be Ok? Also the lids didn’t “pop” down until the jars began to cool. This seems normal to me due to Heat expands & cool contracts. I just wanted to verify this is normal. This information is harder to google than you would think. Thanks, Bruce

    • theresa says:

      Hi Bruce. It sounds like your pickles are okay.

      First, it is completely normal for the lids to pop during cooling. This is usually when they create the vacuum. So that is fine.

      Second, you didn’t say how large the headspace is now. But to answer your question, yes – the pickles can be above the liquid and they will be safe. Since the jars DID seal, the food is in a vacuum and the bacteria that deteriorates the food has been killed by the process.

      The most common reasons for liquid loss are:
      1) The pickles absorbed a bit of the liquid
      2) You did not remove the air bubbles before processing. Then during the process, the bubble dislodge and lower the liquid level.
      3) You had a little bit of siphoning. Siphoning is when some of the liquid boils out during the process. As long at the jar has at least half the liquid, you should be okay. But just know that any food above the liquid will darken quickly. It will still be safe, but the color will be different. You can always just cut that part off it the color is not appealing. I would suggest that you eat the pickles sooner rather than later just so they do not get too dark. Now, if you loss half or MORE of the liquid – then you should put the food in the refrigerator and eat it right away.
      I hope that helps!

      • maureen hidy says:

        this answered my question…i’m 51 and canned a lot with my mom, but now she’s passed, so i don’t have her to help me can, but still do. I have tomatoes that are sitting above the liquid, but know that they’re ok, i will however, use them first. thank you for your answers to these type of questions,

  • Adrienne says:

    hi there! im curious about some apple pie filling i just canned. this was my second attempt at canning it. both times i hot packed and thought i did well with my headspace. the first round had fairly low filling after cooling but more concerning is the batch that seems overly full… i had a lot of seepage when i pulled them from the water bath (heat diff i reckon) and the lids Seem sealed, but could that gooey filling (i use clear jel) create a false seal? i have soo many apples yet this season! i dont want to loose them to my poor judgement! 😉

    thank you!

  • Dustin says:

    Hi I just made a batch of pickles, but a lot of my lids didn’t pull down. It’s been about 2 weeks now is their anything that can be done now? Or is this nothing yo worry about. Ps I just opened a jar and the lid came right off, and the brine seemed fizzy.

    • theresa says:

      It sounds like your pickles are fermenting or something else is happening. The fact that the lid came off and brine is fizzy means that something is happening that you did not intend to happen. Unfortunately, I would throw them out. 🙁

  • Katrina Wilson says:

    I just recently canned applesauce and I notice there is not as much headspace as I thought I left in the jars when filling them. They have all sealed. Is this going to be a problem? If so should I re can them for more headspace?

  • Sue Jacobs says:

    What is the shelf life of water bath canned apple sauce, preserves, and jam?

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