Each day, I see articles floating around encouraging dangerous canning mistakes that could cause someone to get sick.
Canning is fun, refreshing, and rewarding; seeing shelves full of home-canned food is satisfying. Those who are new to canning need to make sure they don’t make any serious canning mistakes.
Not all canning mistakes are dangerous, but some are. In fact, some canning mistakes can kill you.
The last thing you want to do is make a dangerous canning mistake that could lead to you or a loved one getting sick. So, I want to go through some of these canning recommendations that I see frequently.
Before I get started, I know someone will think or say “well, my grandparents did it and they lived.” That is probably true. Chances are your grandparents and great-grandparents did some of these dangerous canning mistakes.
But, we know better now.
Scientists, through extensive studies, have created safety recommendations that ensure what you are canning doesn’t contain dangerous bacteria. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is one of those research institutes that are taking the time to make the safety recommendations.
Cases of poisoning and death from bad canning is rare; that is true. But, it happens! In 2015, an Ohio church potluck experienced a botulism outbreak that caused one death and 20 illnesses. The outbreak was due to badly canned produce. It happens, and you don’t want it to be you or your family that falls victim.
Luckily, most canning mistakes are simple and won’t lead to any horrible consequences. So, let’s take a look at the mistakes you want to avoid.
8 Canning Mistakes You Need to Avoid
Take time to read these mistakes and avoid them. If you end up making a mistake and your jam recipe fails, check out these common problems when making jams and jellies and how to fix them.
Mistake # 1 – Flipping Jars Upside Down to Seal
Unfortunately, I still see people recommending this route for sealing jars. It is true that your lid will probably seal, but that doesn’t guarantee it is a solid and secure seal.
The jars might seal at first, but later come unsealed. Then, the food will spoil without you realizing it.
The biggest reason you don’t want to make this mistake is that the liquids aren’t at high enough temperatures to kill off dangerous spores in the food. One of the reasons that you immerse the jars into a canner is to kill off bacteria.
You want the temperature to be so high that no mold can continue to grow.
Mistake # 2 – Reusing Lids that Are Meant for One Use
I know; no one wants to buy lids for each jar. However, the lids you buy from Ball or Wal-Mart aren’t meant to be reused.
There is an exception to this rule – Tattler Lids. These lids are more expensive, but they are meant for multiple uses and worth the investment.
If you use the wrong lids multiple times, your seal won’t be secure, and your food could spoil. Seriously, no one wants that to happen.
Related: Can You Reuse Canning Lids?
Mistake # 3 – Canning Untested Recipes
Developing your own canning recipes is hard and risky. Using old recipes is also dangerous.
You want to make sure you have the right level of acid, the right headspace, processing time and more. I highly recommend that you use reputable recipes.
When I first started canning, I purchased the Ball Canning Book. Their new book called – The All New Book of Canning and Preserving – has 300 recipes. It is a wonderful resource with safe canning recipes.
Mistake #4 – Using Paraffin Wax to Seal the Jars
Please, if the recipe tells you to use wax to seal the jars, walk (or close it) away immediately.
I understand the idea behind it. The wax is supposed to create a secure seal to keep air out and stopping the growth of bacteria, supposedly. I know that my grandmother talked about doing this when she was younger.
Just like flipping the jars, using paraffin wax doesn’t destroy the bacteria and spores already inside of the food. You can’t guarantee the food is safe, so stick to the lids and rims!
Mistake #5 – Canning Milk, Butter and Flour Products
You might see the cream of mushroom canned in the stores and assume you can safely can it at home. The answer is a huge NO.
It is because companies create their canned goods at a much higher temperature than we could ever generate in our homes.
One of the most common mistakes I see is an article floating around recommending canning butter by ladling melted butter into jars and flipping them over. There is a whole lot of wrong going on there.
Butter is a low acid food, which means it has to be pressure canned! Botulism loves lower acid, so it can thrive in that environment. The same goes for milk. You cannot safely can milk by heating it and putting it into jars. As it stands right now, there are no safe ways to safely can milk and butter.
The same goes for flour products. You might want to can chicken noodle soup, but it isn’t possible to do at home what they do in large factories. Instead, opt to can chicken soup and add the noodles later.
Mistake #6 – Not Checking for Air Bubbles
It might seem like a silly step. Do air bubbles really cause a problem?
The answer is yes, they do.
You can run the tool included with your canning set in your jar or use a sterilized butter knife. Air bubbles can give space for spores and bacteria to thrive and live. The step takes 30 seconds, just do it!
Mistake # 7 – Using a Water Bath Canner When You Need a Pressure Canner
One of the dangerous canning mistakes you can make is using a water bath canner when you need to use a pressure canner.
It is a pet peeve of mine. There are dozens of foods that you cannot safely can in a water bath canner. The difference comes from the acid in the food. The higher the amount of acid, the less likely botulism can survive.
Foods that have a pH level of 4.6 or HIGHER need to be canned in a pressure canner.
This means your produce in the garden, such as green beans, carrots, and corn, must be canned in a pressure canner. If you are canning soups or meat, a pressure canner is necessary.
If you opt to use a water bath canner instead, the temperatures will not be high enough to kill off the botulism spores. Even if you boil the jars for hours, it still isn’t enough.
A few foods that you can preserve in a boiling water bath canner include:
- Tomatoes (with added acid)
Non-acidic foods need a pressure canner, which isn’t a pressure cooker. No, you can’t use your Instant Pot pressure cooker for canning – SORRY!
A pressure canner is a must; they reach temperatures and pressures that are high enough to kill bacteria.
Examples of foods that you need a pressure canner include:
- Dry Beans
Mistake #8 – Overfilling Jars
When you read a canning recipe and it tells you how much headspace to leave, don’t ignore it! Recipes indicate how much headspace you need; the amounts vary from one inch to 1/4 of an inch.
What is headspace?
Headspace is the space between the top of the food and the top of the rim of the jar. Jars aren’t meant to be filled to the tiptop.
If you overfill canning jars, the lids fail to seal properly, and the liquids might siphon out, spilling over the sides.
This canning mistakes happen to nearly everyone when they first start canning. Make sure you have a headspace measurer and a canning funnel.
Mistake #9 – Not Looking for Cracks or Chips in the Jars
Recently, my husband remembered why this canning mistake sucks so much. He lost a quart of sloppy joes that he canned because he forgot to check for cracks.
Always check over all of your canning jars before using them. The heat from the food or canners causes something as small as a hairline crack to shatter entire jars.
No one wants to have wasted food, so inspect the jars!
Typically, I inspect the jars when I scrub and clean them. Slowly turn the jar over in your hand as you look for cracks and chips. Chips happen most commonly along the rims or the bottom of the jars.
Mistake #10: Not Using Hot Jars
An important step each time that you can is to heat the jars up beforehand. Failing to do so increases the risk of siphoning.
What is siphoning?
Siphoning happens most often with fruit and tomato products, but it’s not uncommon with vegetables and meats. It’s when you lose liquid around the edges of your jars.
The most common reason for siphoning is failing to use proper headspace. The second common reason is not using hot jars.
A loss of liquid happens when a drastic change in temperature happens. So, filling hot liquid into a cold jar that then are placed into a hot canner increases the chances of siphoning.
Preheat your jars to stop the loss of any liquid.
How to Fix Canning Mistakes
In many cases, if you make one of these canning mistakes, it’s possible to fix it if you caught the error soon. That means, after 24 hours, the damage is done, and there is no fixing the mistake.
However, if it’s within that time frame and you realized what you did wrong, process your foods again. After the 24-hour rule, food must be tossed out because it’s not safe.
The other bad news is that not all foods handle reprocessing. If you didn’t add enough pectin to your jelly, that’s totally easy to reproduce, but if you didn’t can corn properly, another round in the pressure canner is going to do more damage than good.
Typically, the best foods for reprocessing are soft goods. Anything with a bit of crunch will lose it all during a second round in the canner.
So, what can you do to save the food if you can’t put it through the canner again?
The best thing to do is put those foods into the freezer.
For example, if you messed up canning green beans, simply take them out of the jars and put them in a freezer-safe container or bag. It may not be shelf-stable on the shelf, but at least it’s preserved for you to use later.
Avoid These Mistakes While Canning
I hope you aren’t making one of these 7 dangerous canning mistakes. If you are, remember that once we know better, we do better. Now that you know the method is unsafe, you can change and ensure your family eats only safely preserved foods.