My Advice for Learning how to can Safely


Last night I decided to set up a Pinterest board on all things food preserving, as it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. (You can follow my board there if you wish!) There are no shortage of fantastic blogs out there that post on canning, freezing, and other methods of food preservation and I’m having fun exploring them.

However, in going through some posts and watching some Facebook pages, I’ve sometimes observed something that’s bothered me. I should caveat this heavily by saying I’m not a canning expert – just someone who has read, re-read, and triple read the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and Blue Book Guide to Preserving (both of those are Amazon links, but both books can readily be found at your local library as well).

To cut to the chase – sometimes I’m seeing canning methods that don’t look safe, or recipes a blogger has “come up with.” On one such post last night, I found the following comment, buried in the thread:

I am a Cooperative Extension Agent for Food Safety and this recipe/process is NOT safe! It contains low acid foods and therefore MUST be pressure canned to destroy deadly C. botulinum spores. This is not an approved and tested USDA recipe and it also contains thickeners which slow down the process. For correct processing PLEASE refer to and see their guidelines…

Um, yikes.

Botulism spores, as the comment refers to, can grow in improperly canned foods. The results? Can sometimes be deadly. Perhaps you read about the California man last week who took some shortcuts canning elk and ended up with double vision a couple days later. Thankfully, the doctors caught the botulism poisoning before it was too late.

Botulism poisoning is definitely rare – in 2011, 145 cases were reported and only 15% of those were foodborne (so about 22 cases total). You are three times more likely to die by lightning. But nonetheless, botulism poisoning is a risk you take when you decide to not follow trusty recipes or experiment with ingredients (particularly low acid ones) or processing methods. (For more reading on this topic, I encourage you to check out NW Edible’s most excellent post & infographic entitled: How to Not Die from Botulism.)

So where am I going with all of this? What’s a newbie canner to do?

  • Learn to can from a reliable source. Start by learning how to can from either one/both of the books mentioned above, from an Extension Food Safety specialist, or even through Ball’s website. (Basically, use good common sense where you learn!)
  • Remember that anybody can start a blog. I think it can be easy to read a blog and accept that information as fact. You don’t have to play Devil’s Advocate about every last blog post you read, but you can remain a critical thinker and come to your own conclusions, too.
  • Beware of anecdotal evidence. I don’t know about you, but I get really wary anytime I hear someone explain away their questionable canning methods with “my grandma/mom/dad/etc always did it this way and we’re still alive” or “I canned celery in a boiling water canner last year and ate it all and I felt good.” Folks, that’s not good enough.
  • Don’t forget common sense & good judgment. Like most things in life, they’ll serve you well.

I have shared several canning posts on my blog, and I want you to know, I’m always going to include a disclosure. Following a canning post on a blog is not the same as following a cake or meatloaf recipe. There are some best practices that are involved to keep everyone safe.

My goal today is not to scare you away from canning if you’ve been on the fence. I definitely think it’s worth the effort to learn this important life skill and it’s hard to describe the pride you’ll feel seeing a row of beautiful jams you’ve “put up” by yourself. (Even more so if you grew or foraged all that produce yourself!) I just want to encourage you to be smart and safe and arm you with information you need to be successful.

With that, I’d like to end today’s post with some solid references for learning how to can. Any of these will help break things down for you. Provided you follow the instructions, you should be just fine!

You might also wish to read some of the other canning posts I’ve written on my own blog:

I’d love to hear from you. If you’re new, what about canning intimidates you? If you’re an old pro, I’m curious to hear you weigh in to. Do you feel I’m being overly cautious in my post today, or have you seen things that bother you too?


  1. Angela R says

    Thank you! You are NOT being overly cautious. My mom knows of a woman in my hometown that didn’t can her food properly and her friend DIED from eating the product. Yikes. Not worth the risk…ever.

  2. KP says

    I’m brand new and have been dancing around the idea of canning for quite some time but your post is exactly what I’m afraid of – poisoning everyone!! I’m actually waiting to take a canning class at our community center since I obviously know nothing about the process (so it’s impossible for me to tell which blog posts are safe and which are questionable). I’m going to look into those books as well, thanks for sharing!

    • Angela Russell says

      I think if you take a local canning class, you’ll feel a lot better about it! If it’s any consolation, I’m going to go on a limb and suggest more people get sick from eating improperly cooked meat or other foods than canned foods.

      Truly if you follow the steps you’ll be OK!

  3. Nicole says

    What a great post! I’ve never even considered canning before, and I don’t have a garden, but blackberry jam sounds like a great project to do with the kids (especially picking the blackberries). I also found your applesauce post and tips for picking up supplies very informative; might be giving this a try soon!

    Wanted to tell you also that I took the kids to the blueberry park yesterday after I’d read about that spot (FYI seems like they still need more time to ripen). What a great spot! We had a lot of fun And made delicious muffins when we got home. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Angela Russell says

      I’m so glad to hear about it!! We’re going to try to make a trip back out in a week or so.

  4. Sue says

    Great post! I have always used the Ball canning book for how to can fruit and jam. Vegetables ALWAYS have to be canned in a pressure cooker except if pickling them or using “canning” tomatoes. “low acid” tomatoes must have vinegar added and the vinegar which is an acid prevents botulism in anything pickled. That said–always consult one the the books you mentioned to find out the specific details for each fruit and Never eat anything if the seal has been broken (loose or center popped up) and Yes, my mother knows of people who have died of botulism poisoning.

    • Angela Russell says

      Thanks for sharing! I’d be really curious to know what caused the botulism poisoning in their case – do you know?

  5. Tiff W says

    Thank you for this. There are so many canning recipes and blog posts online, and I don’t trust any of them except for the official canning company sites like Ball. Some that I’ve seen make my hair stand on end, and I know some of those aren’t done correctly…

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