Water Bath Canning: How To Safely Can Food At Home

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Water bath canning is a popular method for preserving a wide range of foods, from fruits and vegetables to jams and pickles. This simple and easy-to-follow process involves submerging jars of prepared food in boiling water for a specific time, allowing them to be safely stored without refrigeration. 

Water bath canning is a wonderful way to enjoy the taste of fresh, homemade food all year round. This blog post will guide you through water bath canning, providing you with everything you need to know to get started.

From selecting the right equipment to preparing your jars and choosing suitable recipes, we will cover all the essential steps to ensure your water bath canned goods are safe, delicious, and long-lasting.

Different sized canning jars filled with various pickles and vegetables.

Water Bath Canning Method 

What is water bath canning?

Water bath canning is a method of preserving food by boiling filled jars of food in a large pot of water. This particular canning method creates a vacuum seal that prevents bacteria and other microorganisms from growing inside the jars, effectively preserving the food inside for long periods.

Water bath canning is typically used for high-acid foods, such as fruits, tomatoes, and pickles, because the acid content of these foods helps to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Canning is a popular method of home food preservation because it’s relatively simple and requires minimal equipment. The technique is safe and effective when proper procedures and guidelines are followed. It’s important to use tested recipes and follow food safety guidelines when water bath canning to ensure the final product is safe to eat.

Four jars of assorted homemade pickles against a bright white background.

Benefits of water bath canning

There are so many wonderful benefits to water bath canning:  

Preserves Food: Water bath canning is a great way to preserve food and extend its shelf life. Waterbath canning is a valuable tool to preserve various foods, including high-acid fruits and vegetables, jams, jellies, and pickles.

Cost-Effective: Water bath canning allows you to buy in-season produce at its peak and preserve it for later use. For example, strawberries are at their peak availability and lowest yearly prices during June.   

Easy to Learn: Water bath canning is a relatively straightforward process that you will learn quickly. You can start canning your food at home today with a few essential tools and a little know-how.

Customizable: When you make your canned goods, you can customize them to your liking. You can add your favorite herbs or flavorings, adjust the sweetness or saltiness, and make the recipe your own. 

  • Please Note: You must use a trusted recipe that allows for adjustments; salt and sugar are often additions used to help with preservation. 

Healthier: When you preserve your food, you have control over the ingredients that go into it. For example, if you are canning your crops from fruit orchards or vegetable gardens, you know exactly what is going into each jar.  

No Refrigeration Required: Canned goods can be stored at room temperature for long periods, eliminating the need for refrigeration.  

Sustainable: Water bath canning is a sustainable practice that can help reduce food waste. By preserving food that would otherwise go bad, you can reduce the amount of food in the landfill.

pPocess of home canning ripe tomatoes.

Is Water Bath Canning A Skill Modern Society Needs to Learn?

In modern society, learning how to water bath can is important for several reasons:

Food Security: Water bath canning can help increase food security by preserving and storing food for later use. In natural disasters or other emergencies, having canned food from hot water canning can be invaluable.

Healthier Eating: Canning your food allows you to control the ingredients that go into it, including reducing the amount of salt or sugar.

Sustainability: By canning your food, you can reduce food waste and promote sustainability.

Self-Sufficiency: Learning how to make a hot water bath can make individuals more self-sufficient and less reliant on commercially canned goods. 

Economic Benefits: Water bath canning can be a cost-effective way to preserve food and save money on groceries. With the current volatility of our food prices in North America, growing and preserving your food makes so much sense financially.   

Overall, learning how to water bath can is an essential skill that can promote self-sufficiency, sustainability, and healthier eating habits, while also providing economic benefits and increasing food security.

Freshly picked pickling cucumbers, washed and added to jars.

Equipment Needed To Start Water Bath Canning In Your Kitchen

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There are a few pieces of equipment you need to start canning. Each piece of equipment is essential in the water bath canning process. Here’s a breakdown of each piece of equipment and its role:

Image of a water bath canner, jars and lids.

Water Bath Canner

A water bath canner is a large pot specifically designed for water bath canning. It’s essential to use a pot that’s large enough to hold all of the jars you’re processing and has a canning rack on the bottom to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the canning pot.

Empty mason jars with herbs and spices resting on the bottom.

Canning Jars

Canning jars are glass containers that specialize in preserving food through canning. These jars are available in different sizes and made from tempered glass, which can endure the high heat of boiling water baths used in canning.

Jar lids and canning bands.

Lids and Bands

Lids and bands seal the jars during processing. Jar lids are flat discs coated in a sealing compound. Canning bands screw onto the jars to hold the lids in place.

A mason jar being lifted with a canning lifter.

Canning Jar Lifter

A jar lifter is a specially designed tool allowing you to lift hot jars out of the canner safely. Using a jar lifter ensures you don’t burn yourself or drop the jars, which can cause them to break.

A jar of red onion pickles being filled with liquid through a large stainless steel canning funnel.

Canning Funnel

A canning funnel is a tool that fits inside the mouth of the canning jar, making it easier to fill the jar without spilling or adding debris to the jar rims.

Plastic bubble remover tools on a white background.

Bubble Removing Tool

A bubble remover tool is a small plastic flat knife-like tool used to remove air bubbles that may be trapped in the food after filling the jars.

A stack of clean dishcloths.

Clean Tea Towel or Paper Towel

Having clean towels on hand will help you quickly wipe any spills and clean rims before placing lids and bands. Clean rims will ensure a good seal.

Steps for Water Bath Canning

There are several steps to the actual water bath canning process, but the steps are easy to follow and understand, and are generally the basic steps for all water bath canning recipes.

That said, recipes may specify that food is cold or that jars need not be sterilized. Always follow the recipe, but be sure your recipe comes from a safe source.

Preparing Jars and Lids

Properly preparing jars and lids is an essential step in water bath canning. Here are the steps you should follow:

Wash Jars, Lids, and Bands:

Wash the jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water. Cleaning lid bands and mason jars will help remove dirt, debris, or bacteria. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly and set them aside.

Sterilizing Jars:

To sterilize the jars:

  1. Fill a large pot or canner with water and bring it to a rolling boil.
  2. Place the jars in the pot, first submerging them in the boiling water.
  3. Boil the clean mason jars for 10 minutes to sterilize them.

Alternatively, you can sterilize them in the dishwasher using the sterilizing setting if that is an option on your machine.

Keep Jars and Lids Warm:

Keep the jars and lids warm until ready to use. You can do this by placing them in a warm oven (around 200 degrees Fahrenheit) or a pot of hot water until ready to fill them. Keeping the jars and lids warm helps to prevent them from breaking or cracking when filled with hot food.

It’s important to note that you should never reuse lids, as they may not form a proper seal and can lead to spoilage. Always use new lids when canning. Additionally, it’s crucial to inspect jars for chips or cracks, as they may also prevent a proper seal from forming.

Preparing Food For The Canning Process

The quality of the produce used in water bath canning can significantly affect the safety and flavor of the final product. Here are the steps to follow when preparing food for water bath canning:

Choose High-Quality Produce:

Choose fresh, high-quality produce for canning. Select fruits and vegetables that are ripe but not overripe or damaged. Using fresh produce and ingredients will help ensure your canned goods are flavorful and safe to eat.

Follow a Tested Recipe:

When canning food, it’s important to use a tested recipe to ensure the safety of the final product. Only modify or alter the recipe if you are an experienced canner and know how to do so safely. You can find tested recipes in canning books or from reputable sources online.

We have many safe canning recipes for you to try. The recipes on our canning page have been tested and used in our home for years and follow safe canning practices. Here are some of the most popular canning recipes on our site:

Prepare Food According to Recipe:

Follow the recipe instructions very carefully when preparing food for the canning process. Instructions may include steps for washing, peeling, and slicing the produce into certain sizes or shapes. It’s also essential to follow the recipe instructions for blanching or cooking the produce before canning, as this can affect the safety and texture of the final product.

It’s important to note that some foods, such as meats and low-acid vegetables, are unsafe for water bath canning. These foods must be pressure canned to ensure their safety. Always consult a tested recipe and follow the appropriate canning method for the type of food you are preserving.

Fresh jalapenos clean and cut in small half pint jars ready for the water bath canner.

Filling Canning Jars

Correctly filling jars is an essential step in water bath canning. Here are the steps to follow:

Use a Canning Funnel:

A canning funnel is a specially designed funnel that fits inside the mouth of the jar, making it easier to fill the jar without spilling. Use a canning funnel to fill the jars with the prepared food.

Leave Appropriate Headspace:

Headspace refers to the amount of space between the top of the food and the rim of the jar. Leave the appropriate amount of headspace as specified in the recipe. This space allows for proper heat distribution during processing, preventing the food from boiling, expanding, and breaking the jar.

Remove Air Bubbles:

After filling the jar, use a bubble remover tool to remove any air bubbles trapped in the food. Removing bubbles helps ensure that the food is preserved correctly and prevents spoilage. Insert the device into the jar and run it along the inside edge to release any trapped air bubbles.

Wipe Jar Rims:

Before placing the lid on the jar, use a clean cloth or paper towel to wipe the rim. Cleaning rims ensure the jar is clean and free of any debris or food particles that could prevent the lid from forming a proper seal.

It’s important to note that overfilling the jar or leaving too little headspace can lead to spoilage or the jar breaking during processing. Always follow the recipe instructions for the appropriate headspace and filling level.

Processed and sealed jars of jalapeno pickles.

Sealing Canning Jars

After filling the jars with the prepared food, it’s time to seal them. Here are the steps to follow:

Place Lids and Bands on Jars:

Place the lids on the jars, ensuring they are centered and level. Then, screw the bands onto the jars until they are fingertip tight. Fingertip tight means tightening the band until it is snug but not overly tight. Only tightening the band with your fingers will allow air to escape during processing, which is necessary for creating a vacuum seal.

Tighten Bands to Fingertip Tightness:

It’s important not to overtighten the bands, as this can prevent air from escaping and lead to a failed seal. Tightening the bands too much can also cause the jar to break during processing.

Processing Jars

Processing jars is a crucial step in water bath canning, as it ensures that the food inside the jars is appropriately preserved and safe to eat. Here are the steps to follow when processing jars:

Place Jars in the Canner:

Once all the jars are filled and sealed, place them in the canner. The canner should be large enough to hold all the jars you are processing, with enough space between them for the water to circulate.

Add Enough Water to Cover Jars:

Add enough water to the canner to cover the jars by at least one inch. Water must cover the jars at all times, so if you have a long processing time, keep an eye on the water level and add boiling water as required.Jars not submerged under water will not vacuum seal properly.

Do not top up your water bath with cold water, because it will lower the water temperature and increase the chance of spoilage.

Bring Water to a Boil:

Place the canner on the stove and turn the heat to high. Bring the water to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling, start the processing time.

The processing time varies depending on the type of food and the size of the jars. Consult a tested recipe to determine the appropriate processing time for your specific recipe. Keep the water at a boil for the entire processing time.

It’s important to note that processing times and methods vary depending on the type of food. Some foods, such as low-acid vegetables and meats, require pressure canning to ensure safety. Always consult a tested recipe and follow the appropriate processing method for the type of food you are preserving.

Canned homemade tomato paste in glass jar on wooden rustic table in pantry.

Removing Jars From The Canner

After the processing time is complete, it’s time to remove the jars from the canner. Here are the steps to follow:

Turn off the Heat and Remove the Mason Jars from the Canner:

Once the processing time is complete, turn off the heat and remove the canner lid from the canner. Removing the canner from the heat will stop the jars from processing further and allow them to cool.

Use a Jar Lifter to Remove Jars:

Use a jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner. If you want to lift hot jars out of the canner safely, a useful tool is a jar lifter, designed specifically for this purpose.

Never use tongs or other tools to remove jars from the canner, as this can cause the jars to slip, break or spill.

Place Jars on a Towel to Cool:

Place jars on a heat-safe surface covered with a clean tea towel. Ensure the jars are not touching each other, which can cause them to break.

Check Seals after 12-24 Hours:

After the jars have cooled for 12-24 hours, check the seals. The pot’s lid should be concave and not flex when pressed in the center. If the lid flexes when pressed, the jar is not sealed correctly, and the food inside could spoil. Store properly sealed jars in a cool, dry place.

It’s important to note that jars should not be tightened or opened for 24 hours after processing as this interferes with the sealing process. Once the jars are properly sealed and checked, they can be labeled and stored.

Fresh peach preserves from the water bath canner.

Tips and Safety Precautions

Water bath canning is a safe and effective way to preserve food, but following specific guidelines and safety precautions is essential. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Use Only Tested Recipes:

Always use tested recipes when water bath canning to ensure the safety of the final product. Recipes that have yet to be tested may not provide the appropriate instructions for processing and canning, leading to spoilage or contamination.

Follow the recommended processing times for the type of food being canned and the size of the jars. Processing times can vary depending on the food and the altitude at which you canning.

Check Jars for Signs of Spoilage:

After processing, check the jars for signs of spoilage. A foul or sour smell, the appearance of mold, or cloudy liquid are indications of spoilage. If any signs of spoilage are present, do not consume the contents of the jar.

Don’t Reuse Lids:

Always use new lids when canning, as reusing lids when canning lead to a failed seal and spoilage. Bands can be reused as long as they are not rusted or damaged.

Store Jars in a Cool, Dry Place:

Store sealed jars at room temperature in a cool, dry place for up to twelve months. Do not store jars in direct sunlight or areas with high humidity.

How to Test for Proper pH Levels

High-acid foods, such as fruits and pickles, can be safely water bath canned because their high acidity prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. To test the pH level of your food, you can use pH test strips or a pH meter.

To use pH test strips, dip the strip into the liquid or puree you’re canning and compare the strip’s color to the color chart provided. The safe pH level for water bath canning is a pH of 4.6 or lower. With a pH of 4.6 or lower, the acidity of the food is high enough to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria like Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism. Foods with a pH above 4.6 are considered low-acid foods and require pressure canning to ensure safety.

Using a pH meter requires more specialized equipment but provides a more accurate measurement of the pH level. Follow the instructions provided with the pH meter to test the pH level of your food properly.

These are the pH strips we use in our kitchen : pH strips for food testing.

A  water bath canned jar of candied jalapenos resting on a bright white table top.

Water Bath Canning – Are You Going to Give it A Try?

Water bath canning is a simple and effective way to preserve food at home. You can create delicious canned goods lasting months or years with the right equipment, tested recipes, and proper food safety guidelines. The benefits of water bath canning include enjoying fresh, seasonal produce all year round, saving money on groceries, and reducing food waste.

With some practice, you’ll soon be a pro at water bath canning and enjoying the delicious fruits of your labor!

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