The easiest, cheapest and fastest way to dry can food is to use oxygen absorbers. This technique is nearly fool-proof, and requires no electricity, fancy equipment, and it does not expose your dry food to heat. The true beauty to this technique is that you can break the seal on a jar, use some of the contents, close it up with the absorber still inside…..and it magically reseals itself! SO it works not only for long-term storage but short-term as well!
First you are going to start with some dry food you’d like to put up to store. TIP: This technique works best on food that you would store in smaller amounts, and food that doesn’t store well in mylar bags (like spinach, that, when dried, would be crushed into dust if you were to use a mylar bag and oxygen absorbers) otherwise, for example, if you are wanting to store a large amount of flour you may want to look into using a large capacity mylar bag then storing it in a 5 gallon bucket. You will also need some canning jars. I use dry canning as an opportunity to use up some of the “no name” canning jars I acquire from yard sale purchases. You will also want to gather up an equal number of lids, and rings.
Where do I find Oxygen Absorbers and Mylar Bags?
You can find oxygen absorbers (by clicking here) online and at some grocery stores now – I know that the WinCo stores in my area all carry them, for a great price too. You can also find many places that sell mylar bags online – (click here). If you are not the order online type, and you can’t find them at your local store – there is always these (pictured to the right) air activated hand warmers, which you can find just about anywhere. They are also oxygen absorbers. They use the same process of an exothermic oxidation of iron to generate heat (oxygen being adsorbed, making the iron rust in a very small, controlled and contained reaction) only in a bigger packet and yes, its food safe. In the 90s when hand warmers became popular, tests were run that showed they were not as effective as official “oxygen absorbers” meant for food because they were designed to operate in a higher oxygen environment, this is why they came out with a different product “foot warmers” that would work better in a lower oxygen environment. Since that time however, the “hand warmer’ formulas have been updated to accommodate our habit of putting them in our pockets and gloves – making them more efficient in lower oxygen environments. In other words – the ones they make today should work fine for storing food.
Now that you have the supplies you need to make sure that your jars are clean, just like in regular canning, by washing them. Then dry them completely, you don’t want moisture in with your dried food. If you are suspicious of the cleanliness of your lids and rings you can also wash and dry them.
Set all of your jars out at once and fill them with their contents. I am storing some ground mustard, cream of tartar, dried chili peppers, dried spinach, and some other things for the purpose of this article. I fill my jars leaving a little head space in each jar. When you open your bag of oxygen absorbers, you’ll want to get them in the jars as quickly as possible by placing one in each canning jar then quickly topping with a lid and using a ring to tighten the lid down, in general I say finger tip tight – but you want it fairly snug. The absorbers I am using are 300 cc in size so they will work just fine for canning jars. Using a bigger absorber, like a 500 cc, will mean it will last longer if you are opening and resealing the jars frequently.
If you have absorbers leftover and can’t reseal your absorbers with a FoodSaver bag, then when you are done, quickly put them all in a small pint jar, then add a lid and ring to it so that they seal the jar and deactivate themselves. That way they will be good for you to use on other food at some future date. Next, you will leave your jars alone, and go do something else for a few hours. Wait for the jars to seal themselves, which they will, but never when you are watching! Do not play with them or push the lid down with your finger – it’s important to know if you have a good seal or not, so wait overnight to check them. This is the general rule of thumb for ALL methods of canning – don’t mess with the jars for a day.
The next day, check your jars – all should have sealed. If a few did not, check the rims of the jars for chips, and lids for debris, remove the spent O2 absorber and add a new one, clean the rim of the jar, add a new lid and repeat the above process. Check your sealed jars. You should not be able to use your finger tips to remove the lids. Then remove the rings for storage – because if you don’t, over time they will rust on to the lids, which will only make you mad when you go to open them, besides who wants to buy new rings all the time?
Voila! You have just dry canned your food for short-term or long-term storage without any expensive equipment or electricity! As you can see from the close up picture, the O2 absorbers have in fact created a vacuum and sealed the jar. When the O2 absorber has absorbed the oxygen in the jar it will deactivate. Then, when you open the jar to get some food out, oxygen gets let back in and it will re-activate the absorber so when you put the lid and a ring back on, it will automatically re-seal itself. Neat huh? You can repeat this process until the jar no longer seals, then simply replace the spent absorber with a new one.
A word on using the FoodSaver attachments for dry canning.
You can use the attachment on your FoodSaver to seal mason jar lids, but even if you have one with a powerful vacuum you are not reducing the oxygen level within the jar as much as an oxygen absorber would. You are reducing the amount of air inside of the mason jar and creating a seal, but the remaining air will still contain a substantial percentage of oxygen. This is why FoodSaver does NOT recommend using their mason jar accessories for canning purposes.
According to Food Industry Standards (when used as directed) Oxygen Absorber Packets remove oxygen from airtight containers to around 0.01%. The ‘safe’ range you are shooting for is .02% – .01% because studies have shown that mold can grow in anything above those levels. A FoodSaver mason jar accessory is just not going to do that for you, when you are watching the lights on the front of your FoodSaver machine it is *not* indicating how much oxygen it is removing, it’s a vacuum meter only indicating how much of a vacuum it is creating. I like using my FoodSaver attachment in conjunction with O2 absorbers, as the FoodSaver will get most of the job done, and what is left the O2 absorber will take care of, giving me one more time I can open it and then reseal it later on.
Those FoodSaver attachments are still very handy, they have one for regular mouth jars (click here to see) and wide mouth jars (click here to see). I use them to prolong the life of milk, tallow that I render, spices, nuts, and many other things that I don’t put in long-term storage but I will consume in time. Saving food in this manner has saved me enough money that our FoodSaver has paid for itself and then some. It is still a very worthwhile product.
A word on Oven Canning.
I have seen this brought up a few times lately in the online prepping community and whenever it is people just flock to it. So I want to take a minute to explain a few things about oven canning.
When you hear the experts say “oven canning is unsafe” they are right – it’s not. Things that can prove this are exploding glass in one’s oven, canning jars are not designed to hold up to prolonged exposures to dry heat. It can also be dangerous because the temperature will vary according to the accuracy of your oven regulators and the circulation of heat. ‘Dry heat’ is very slow in penetrating into jars of food. If you are dry canning in place of regular canning, and the food doesn’t get up to temperature, any bacteria in the jar may be allowed to flourish undisturbed until it is opened making whoever eats it very, very ill – something no one will want to deal with in an emergency situation. There is no way to know if the food in the center of the jar is up to temperature without breaking the seal to check, so there is the risk.
People say, “Well oven canning should be perfectly safe for dry goods.” Sure, aside from the whole exploding jar risk; getting food and glass all over your hot oven (although that can happen during regular canning, but it at least it is contained in your canner instead all over a hot oven). Keep in mind, you are exposing your dried goods to lots of HEAT which we all try to avoid. Heat will liquefy oils accelerate the process at which they go rancid making this a particularly poor method for storing nuts. The heat will make your nuts go rancid faster than if they were never oven canned at all, completely defeating your efforts. Using an oxygen absorber really is the best approach.
The ONLY way to know for *sure* that your wet food is safe is to to use a pressure canner as recommended and follow recommended recipes. With a pressure canner, the contents in the jars are under a certain amount of pressure, for a certain amount of time are reaching a certain temperature. This has been scientifically studied and is known for certain. If done correctly, the food in your jars will reach that magic temperature of 240 degrees which kills the botulism spores, making your food safe to store and eat every time. Follow these time proven methods of canning and make life-saving food in that jar. Otherwise, it could become food poisoning.