Short on Canning Supplies? Freezing Is a Quick, Easy Alternative

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Hot water bath canner, canned tomatoes, beans, jelly, pickles, freezer cartons, bags and wrap, citric acid, fruit fresh funnel, jar lifter If you are the type of person who plans ahead, having your ducks in a row and ready for action you are probably sitting pretty with canning supplies. If you are like me, a run out to the store and get what you need at the last minute kind of gal, then you are going to need a plan B. Canning season is in full swing and with that I have received the usual influx of calls with canning questions and requests for canner lid checks. The most popular question this season has been: “where can I buy jars and lids?”

The quarantine has led many who are staying at home to take up gardening as well as try their hand at home food preservation. Pair that with those who already preserve food and may be growing and preserving even more this year in response to the current pandemic and the result is an increased demand on food preservation supplies. Many callers have reported attempting to purchase canning jars and lids as well as other supplies at their local retailers and on line with no luck.

I was first made aware of the increased demand for canning supplies by a local hardware store owner when he told me in July that he had sold out of all canning supplies and they were now on backorder until October. The general manager of a busy Haywood County grocery store contributes the situation to low supply caused by a slowdown in production as well as an increase in demand and possibly hoarding, all the result of Covid-19. As more calls came in I reached out to other Family & Consumer Science Extension Agents across the state and learned that the problem is not exclusive to Haywood County. A spokesperson from Newell Brands, the company who owns the Ball brand, provided the following statement regarding the shortage of jars, lids and other canning supplies:

 “Ball and the entire canning industry have experienced an unprecedented demand. The demand has resulted in supply constraints, extended lead times and recently limited product availability at stores and online.

 We’re grateful for our consumers’ enthusiasm for Ball and appreciate their patience as we work rapidly to solve for the supply constraints. Ball has increased glass production, found additional lid manufacturers and expanded our pack out locations to replenish stock as quickly as possible.”

After doing several online searches I discovered that the few products that are available online have increased significantly in price. I have found prices for the popular brand of quart jars with a lid and ring from $2.50 to $8.50 per jar. I have also discovered some companies on line who sell lids and jars in bulk (with prices still higher than normal), they are just not the brand name most usually rely on. Many who home can have plenty of reusable jars they just cannot find the lids to use with them. The current prices for jars and lids that are available certainly bring into question the cost efficiency of home canning at this time.

The USDA does not recommend a certain brand of jar or lid but they do have the following guidelines for jars and lids:

  • Regular and wide-mouth Mason-type, threaded, home-canning jars with self-sealing lids are the best choice. They are available in ½ pint, pint, 1½ pint, quart, and ½ gallon sizes. The standard jar mouth opening is about 2-3/8 inches. Wide-mouth jars have openings of about 3 inches, making them more easily filled and emptied. Half-gallon jars may be used for canning very acid juices. Regular-mouth decorator jelly jars are available in 8 and 12 ounce sizes. With careful use and handling, Mason jars may be reused many times, requiring only new lids each time. When jars and lids are used properly, jar seals and vacuums are excellent and jar breakage is rare.
  • Lid selection, preparation, and use: The common self-sealing lid consists of a flat metal lid held in place by a metal screw band during processing. The flat lid is crimped around its bottom edge to form a trough, which is filled with a colored gasket compound. When jars are processed, the lid gasket softens and flows slightly to cover the jar-sealing surface, yet allows air to escape from the jar. The gasket then forms an airtight seal as the jar cools. Gaskets in unused lids work well for at least 5 years from date of manufacture. The gasket compound in older unused lids may fail to seal on jars. Buy only the quantity of lids you will use in a year. To ensure a good seal, carefully follow the manufacturer’s directions in preparing lids for use. Examine all metal lids carefully. Do not use old, dented, or deformed lids, or lids with gaps or other defects in the sealing gasket. (National Center for Home Food Preservation).

The good news is, freezing, fermenting and dehydrating are reliable alternatives to canning.

I will highlight freezing here because it is the easiest, quickest, most convenient form of Home Food Preservation. Once thawed the majority of frozen food is most like fresh food in color, flavor and nutrition.

Because the freezing process causes water inside the cell wall of fruits and vegetables to freeze and expand, ice crystals form and rupture the cell walls causing the food to soften when it thaws. Foods like celery, lettuce, and cucumbers that have a high water content are not recommended for freezing for this reason. High starch items like lima beans, corn, peas and green beans freeze well because changes are not as noticeable due to their cell structure. Tomatoes are a popular item to can and while they do break down and soften due their water content, frozen tomatoes work well when incorporated into other dishes like soups, stews and sauces and can also be juiced and frozen.

So, you have decided to freeze to preserve, where do you start?

  • First, choose high quality foods and freeze them as soon as possible. If you cannot freeze immediately, store the product in the refrigerator.
  • Make sure your kitchen and equipment are clean and sanitized and always follow recommended freezing guidelines for preparation, processing and storing.
  • Enzymes in fruits and vegetables are slowed down but not destroyed by freezing and if not inactivated they can cause color and flavor change as well contribute to a loss of nutrients.
  • Blanching vegetables, which is simply submerging the cleaned prepped produce into boiling water or steaming inactivates those enzymes giving you a higher quality product. A good rule of thumb is 1 gallon of water for 1 pound of vegetables.
  • The time varies depending on the vegetable. You do not want to under or over blanch the product. See the following chart for specific blanching times: Chart – Blanching times
  • Blanched produce should be quickly cooled in an ice water bath for the same amount of time it was blanched.
  • To inactivate enzymes in fruits that darken quickly when exposed to air like peaches, apple, pears and apricots there are several options. The most effective option is ascorbic acid but citric acid and lemon juice are also effective. Steaming is another option.
  • For more information on fruit packing options see Freezing Fruits.

There are a variety of containers and wraps that can be used for freezing. Be sure to follow proper packing and storage recommendations.

  • One option for freezing containers are rigid containers such as freezer canning jars and plastic freezer containers.
  • Another option is flexible wrapping such as heavy duty aluminum foil, freezer wrap, freezer bags and vacuum packaging (always store vacuum packed items in the freezer).
  • Pack your food tightly, expelling any air which helps avoid freezer burn.
  • Allow headspace to prevent the expanding product from breaking you packaging or losing your air tight seal.
  • Finally, freezing food quickly reduces cell wall rupture resulting in a higher quality product. Also, space your processing so that you do not overload your freezer with unfrozen food helping it to freeze your products quicker.

For more information on freezing food and Home Food Preservation contact:

Julie Sawyer, Family & Consumer Science Extension Agent, Haywood County Julie_sawyer@ncsu.edu

Also see:

National Center for Home Food Preservation

SafePlatesFSIC

NC State Extension – Home Food Preservation

Fermentation

Dehydration

This article was based on information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, University of Georgia.