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By November 28, 2012 Read More →

WHY Can’t I *Can* that?

*** Note From The APN ***

This topic often becomes controversial.  There seem to be many differing opinions out there regarding canning different types of food.  The bottom line is this:  When you can food you must make a choice whether you want to follow “age-old” advice or scientific data concerning safe heat levels food must reach in order to kill the lingering bugs and germs that are omni-present in today’s store bought food.  

This article presents well researched and heavily documented information regarding the baseline for how to can SAFELY.  None of what is presented is opinion other than the opinion that when you are preserving food for your family to eat, it is best to err on the side of absolute safety.  

Comments on this article which are derogatory, attack the author or attack those of us who consider family food safety to be paramount will be deleted.  If commenting on this article becomes a persistent issue, comments will be turned off.  

But I read about it online!

Stephanie Dayle ©2013

Getting your canning instructions and procedures from a random site on the internet (even ours) without referring to carefully tested and established guidelines, can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.  The ingredients used in foods today are not the same as they were 100 years ago.  Likewise, the contaminants and germs that store-bought food is exposed to is not the same it was 100 years ago.  Due to advances in the fields of microbiology, we are now better able to test foods for dangers than we were 100 years ago. Due to this, canning guidelines have changed. 

Where to can get Accurate, Safe, Time Tested, Food Storage Information:

When I make food to put into storage I rely both on time proven methods and the science behind them. I will talk to real people who are more experienced than I – like my grandma, mother and aunts.  Master Preservers and Food Specialists are also a great resource for a question or new recipes and can be reached through your local county extension office, or found by clicking here.  Most importantly, I also use trusted canning books like the Ball Blue Book as a reference and  the National Center for Home Food Preservation (USDA home preservation recommendations, recipes, and guidelines) to validate those methods.  While I don’t think those recommendations are “the law of the land”  most of them do have a very good scientific reasons behind them.  Every time I have read a recommendation that I disagree with and proceeded to research it myself I have discovered that they do in-fact, have good reasons behind them.


But I don’t trust the USDA.

Many people assume that USDA canning recommendations are in existence to keep people (like preppers) from storing their own food – in order to keep them dependent on the system.  While this line of thinking sells a lot of books, it is flawed as most of those “guidelines and recommendations” (and yes, even the USDA admits they are ONLY guidelines and recommendations) have been around longer than the term “prepper’ has and even longer than the first formal survivalist movements.  

They exist because at one time our government did actually encourage people to can, garden, and make their own food to take the pressure off the ‘system’ so that more food and supplies could be sent to the war effort. This was also done so that ‘rationing’ wouldn’t hurt the average person so much.  Since they were encouraging people to can – they also took some responsibility for providing the public with information on how to do it safely.  Thus, with some help from the industry (Ball, Kerr, and the manufacturers of pressure canners) the canning “guidelines and recommendations” as we know them today, were born.

While the guidelines are updated continuously, in the grand scheme of things, they have changed very little since then.  The changes that have been noticed the most (like the removal of a bacon canning recipe and a pumpkin butter recipe) are due to new information that has come in, from university and industry studies (not necessarily from the government itself, which has been unable to come up with any funding for new home canned goods research for decades).  In some cases recipes have been removed because of ‘lack’ of information – since no testing has been done, they can’t verify it as safe and thus it is removed.

In essence the guidelines were developed and centralized to provide people with safe information on how to can homegrown goods. After all the costs of not doing so are steep (read below). They were especially targeted to people new to the practice at the time, and especially those more than one generation removed from the farm and garden, now living in city.


But why?

Now, with that being said – here are the top foods people commonly try to can that should NOT be canned,  not water bathed canned OR pressure canned, and certainly not oven-canned.  Here’s why (stay with me, I will try to explain everything in a down to earth way):

Botulinum Toxin
public domain image

“Botulinum toxin is the most acutely toxic substances known, with a median lethal dose of about 1 ng/kg when introduced intravenously and 3 ng/kg when inhaled.  This means, depending on the method of introduction into the body, a mere 90–270 nanograms of botulinum toxin could be enough to kill an average 90-kg (200-lb) person, and four kg of the toxin, if evenly distributed, would be more than enough to kill the entire human population of the world.….Botulinum toxin has been recognized and feared as a potential bio terror weapon.”

That lethal.  Its odorless, tasteless and can have no visible appearance, and the lid to the jar will still have a nice seal.  If ingested immediate medical attention and a dose of anti-toxin is usually required to prevent death and nerve damage.  That’s why it’s such a big deal.

Food quality has improved  AND medical response time has also improved that’s why you rarely hear of Botulism poisoning cases anymore.  If you disregard this information, in a sense, you are trusting the same mega farms that brought you the salmonella egg poisonings and following egg recall in 2010 to bring you perfectly clean milk and butter.

Some people take even more short cuts with butter and water bath can it – or worse, can it in their oven which guarantees that the temperatures won’t get high enough in the jar to kill the spores, increasing their risk.  Dry heat from your oven is slow to penetrate into jars and the recommended time is not long enough for the center of the jar to get up to temperature, the only way you can be certain it got up to temp is to break the seal and check which is counter productive to your efforts.

Water boils at  212° F near sea level and because of  the heating curve even if you increase the temperature on your stove the water NEVER gets any hotter, so water bathing your butter also will not bring it up to a temperature where Clostridium botulinum can be killed (this is why water bath canning relies more on acidity than heat to sterilize food). Botulism spores are killed after being exposed to temperatures of 240˚ for a specific period of time, through scientific testing those “times” have been determined and are listed as “processing times” with each approved canning recipe. 

One way you CAN store butter for the long term is by ‘clarifying’ it first, when you ‘clarify’ butter you remove the dairy fats, making it more healthy and shelf stable – this is also called ghee. Prepared this way you can store butter on the shelf without canning it for over a year.


  • Milk or Milk Heavy Products like Condensed Soups 
    I’ve articles claiming that the only reason why it’s not recommended to can milk is solely because of the resulting unfavorable taste and texture of the milk.  In truth that is only part of the reason: Dr. Elizabeth L. Andress, National Director of Home Food Preservation, University of Georgia Department of Foods and Nutrition and Dr. Andress, a Professor and Extension Food Safety Specialist have recently commented “the amount of heat that would have to be applied to kill harmful bacteria” would be “extremely detrimental to its quality.”  But it’s not just the taste and texture of the milk, Dr. Andress states, “milk is a finely balanced emulsion of proteins in water.  If the milk proteins are over-heated, they drop out of suspension and the milk separates” the visible separation is an indication that the same ‘life sustaining’ proteins of the milk are no longer intact defeating the purpose of canning milk.  Also, milk is a LOW acid food (see above explanation) and dairy fats can protect botulism spores from the heat of canning.  So if your milk somehow does have spores in it and you put it in a jar and seal it off from oxygen for an extended period of time at room temperature… can grow into one of the many strains of Clostridium botulinum, and produce an extremely lethal neurotoxin.

    public domain image

  • Pureed or Mashed Squash and Pumpkin and Pumpkin Butter 
    In purée form these two should not be canned, not water bathed or pressure canned.  However in cubed form it is safe to “pressure” can them.  Here is why: Pumpkin is a low acid food (low acid foods can support the outgrowth of C. botulinum) when pumpkin and squash are pureed it’s really thick (dense).  Through recent testing several universities have discovered that not even a pressure canner can produce enough heat to reliably penetrate the jar to the center of the purée, it is just too dense.  When pumpkin and squash are cubed and suspended in water the pressure canning process is reliable every single time.  The reason why canning purée pumpkin or pumpkin butter was recommended by the USDA and now it’s not, is because further testing was done which indicated that sometimes the pressure canning process worked and sometimes its did not, even with the addition of lemon juice the tests were still coming back with positive for Botulism spores (Source).  With one minor change to the process (using cubes and not a purée) it was 100% reliable so the recommended recipes for purée pumpkin and squash were withdrawn and replaced by cubed recipes.  This change was not made to annoy everyone it was made with our safety in mind.
  • Rice and Bread (and pastas)
    Adding rice, bread, or pastas to canned food recipes, like soups, is also not recommend.  Canning rice or bread or cake products straight is also not recommended.  It changes the density and increases the pH of the food, this may alter it to the point where you would not get adequate heat penetration to kill off the nasty bugs.  There is also the problem with these of ingredients expanding.  If you are canning with a jar that is flawed you run the risk of an exploding jar ruining your entire batch.  Food manufacturers produce canned soups with these ingredients with high temperature/pressure retort sterilization machines, but we do not have this capability for our home canned goods.  Canned cakes and breads are a favored item of the “anything can be canned” crowd.  Not only do they meet the botulism criteria of being moist and low acid, the airless center of the cake just doesn’t get hot enough to kill botulism that could get there a number of ways.  It doesn’t matter if the oven temperature is at 350 degrees; the internal temperature will not get anywhere near required 240 degrees for 30 minutes that is required for it to be safe.  Since rice, wheat, and cake mix store so easily dry – I recommend dry canning them (click here to read an article) for separate storage. Can make soups without rice and noodles – and simply add them later when you go to use the can of soap.
  • Eggs  
    It is not recommended to can eggs at all. I know people who would fight me on this until their death, because, they claim they have found ways to make it ‘safer’ but here are the facts. Eggs are a low acid and a high density food.  Hard boiled eggs have a pH around 6.8, so it is possible for botulism to grow because the vinegar does not penetrate deeply into the egg.  You can, however, pickle eggs then refrigerate them and they will then last an unnervingly long time this way. There are no safe tested recipes for canning hard-boiled eggs, pickled or otherwise.  Food manufacturers get away with canning eggs because their capabilities are greater than what our home pressure canners can do – this isn’t a conspiracy it’s just a fact of life.  If you are wondering why pickled eggs can sit at a saloon out of the fridge and be safe, the answer is because saloon patrons usually eat the eggs within a couple of days.  When eggs are pickled, if some nasty bug survives in the middle of the egg away from the vinegar it will grow undisturbed at room temperature until the egg is eaten, the longer it sits at room temperature the more it grows. That is why it’s wise to refrigerate all pickled eggs. Now if you want to do your own research and part ways with the safety guides here that is up to you. Knowing what I know now about the science behind canning – I am sticking with the safety guides on this one.
  • Chili 
    Chili can be canned as opposed to the products above, but most chili recipes are only supposed to canned in pints jars, as in this recommended recipe here so you have pay attention to the recommended jar size and corresponding processing time.   This is because chili is a low acid food, it is also very dense.  If you put it in a quart jar as opposed a pint jar the contents of the jar may be too dense for the temperature in the middle of the jar to consistently reach 240°F for 30 minutes, in another words it could stray beyond our home pressure canner capabilities.
    You also should not change the recommended chili recipe to fit your families favorite recipe or to create a “survival chili” recipe.  I know this seems like a drag, but all the research that has been done on chili has been done on those specific recipes for chili – those acid levels, those density levels and ingredients, not on your families favorite chili recipe. For those quart jar fans out there I did find a recipe for chili in the 2011 Ball Blue Book that included a recommendation for processes quart jars.  I trust that Ball (Jarden Home Brands) would not include an unproven recipe in their book – so you can reference the Blue Book for that (see one of the links above or below to find a copy).

    What “Research-Based” home canning means
    “The development of a canning recipe is an extensive process.  It involves repeating the entire preparation and canning process 15-30 times to obtain accurate heat penetration data.  Then, microorganisms are purposefully put into the jars before processing to make sure the processing time is sufficient to destroy them. This research must take place in a laboratory with equipment for testing heat penetration and microbiology. This is why processing times cannot be made up!  It’s also why a sealed jar does not mean it’s a safe jar,” (Lizann Powers-Hammond and Val Hillers WSU Consumer Food Safety).So while that doesn’t mean your families recipe is unsafe, it does mean that you will most likely never know for sure.


But I have been canning that for years and no one has gotten sick.

Many people say it must be safe to can because after all, they’re alive, aren’t they?  I can’t even count how many times I have heard or read someone saying, “I have been canning and eating ______ for years and never had a problem.”  That’s like saying “I’ve been driving my car for 10 years without a seat belt and have never gotten in an accident,” the day before you are thrown through your windshield on your way home.

Past performance does not guarantee future results.  

Home canned food that could make your family members ill or even kill them when immediate medical attention is not available, is not a good survival tactic.

A good rule of thumb is if there are no recipes available in trusted canning guides, then either no tests have been done, or it has been tested and found unsafe.  I know it is frustrating to not be able to preserve something that you like inexpensively, but sometimes it is just safer to go buy the powdered, freeze-dried or industrial shelf stable version to store.

I don’t want to scare anyone into not canning, home canning food is basically safe, as long as you follow the scientifically tested recipes and procedures.  When you deviate from those methods and directions you put yourself and whomever you feed at risk, how much risk is up to you.

So instead of blindly trying out random recipes that you read on people online – cross-check the recipes you find with the  Ball Blue Book, or The Complete Guide to Home Canning (the USDA guide) to see what similar recipes recommend for processing times.  If you can’t find a recipe, there MAY BE A GOOD REASON for that.  If you still have questions about using the recipe consult your local extension office. My sources for this article (at the time it was posted) are linked to each individual explanation and/or above in blue.

TIP:  Proper refrigeration of foods at temperatures below 3°C (38°F) retards the growth of Clostridium botulinum and most other bacteria.  The organism is also susceptible to high salt, high oxygen, and low pH levels (acidity).  The lethal toxin produced by the bacteria is rapidly destroyed by heat, such as in thorough cooking, but you need to bring it up to boiling temperatures.


Note From the Author concerning the Content of this Article:

I feel we (as preppers) are all on the same team working towards a common goal.  I wrote this because someone on the internet NEEDED to be very clear about safe canning practices.  I presented this information just as everyone else who posts canning articles presents their information, and I have left it up to you, the readers, to make up your own minds.  I feel you need all of the information available to do that – not just the feel good stuff.  At no point do I claim to be an expert in this article which is why I thoroughly cited all of the information and provided links where you could locate and get in touch with canning and food experts.

*On a final note – I want to make it perfectly clear, that I have nothing against commercial farms or dairies, or their quality control standards. As they are strict and double and triple checked, but, humans error.  They also fill a need.   All the small farms in the US together would not be able to feed the American people alone it is not mathematically possible.  Demonizing mega farms will never achieve the goals of a safer, healthier food supply.  It is a problem that can only be solved by the consumer, not the government. 

About the Author:

Stephanie is a writer for the American Preppers Network, a small local paper and for her blog, The Home Front and was featured in Marie Claire UK in the October 2012 issue that featured women preppers. She is also the credited writer of "Emergency Bag Essentials (Swatchbook): Everything You Need to Bug Out" released in August 2014 and available on "I write articles based on my own experience with emergency preparedness, self-sufficiency, homesteading, food preservation and life around the farmstead. I grew up in a very rural area where I learned to garden, the art of canning, to hunt and fish, and to raise my own animals for food. I also spent 6 years volunteering for the local county Search and Rescue group where I learned a variety of survival skills and a little bit about law enforcement protocol. " "As a general rule of principle I do not write articles about information that I have only read - if I am writing about something it's because I have done it myself and gone to great lengths to provide you with the facts meshed with personal experience. My alter egos are as an full time mom, amateur photographer, and backpacker." Stephanie's past APN articles are featured below on several pages. To connect with her --> click on one of the many little square social media buttons below!

35 Comments on "WHY Can’t I *Can* that?"

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  1. 70 Notable Prepper Links in November 2012 - SchemaByte | November 29, 2012
  1. Thank you so much for sharing the “why” behind the guidelines. As much as I would love to put up my carrot/ginger soup, the thought of potentially killing someone with the gift really puts a damper on things. There is a method to the madness. 

    Thank you for being a trusted resource.

  2. EXCELLENT article and its about time someone shared the true facts!!

    Jalapeno Gal

  3. Methane Creator says:

    Well written article.  Wonder if anyone has had any luck freeze drying foods with liquid Nitrogen?

  4. Methane Creator says:

    WOW!  I don’t believe everything that is thrown out there.  Steph at least has tried to provide valid points on her research.  How many days of rain did it take to start the FLOOD?  I need information on all subjects and that is why i read and study these points.  I love the info halapeno gal gives us and use what i need.  Attack the article but not the author.

  5. Greg Martin says:

    Thanks for sharing this!!

  6. We have found that the USDA and especially the FDA’s guidelines are built with unnecessary margins of error. We are often adapting old (lost) recipes and use PH test strips for precise measurements. We don’t recommend this for novices but we do not trust FDA and USDA guidelines. Often their methods destroy the food to the point where it’s nutritional value is diminished.

    • I am very interested in researching this part of your comment: “Often their methods destroy the food to the point where it’s nutritional value is diminished.” In greater detail, could you provide to me a credible link or source that I visit that supports this claim? Hopefully one provides some nerdy type research? (I am fluent in Nerd and appreciate that depth of knowledge)

      In almost all of the information I read and cited – I found, (like in the section under MILK) that nutritional value was ALSO a main concern of the research.  Whenever food is processed – some nutrition is lost, but if I had to pick between food that I know for a fact won’t kill me and that I know still contains life sustaining qualities and food that is questionable but really super nutritious………….um, I am gonna pick the safe food, but to each his own.  They are after all only “guidelines” – and I do get why folks don’t trust the USDA, I really do. 

    • Joanne says:

      When it comes to the health of yourself or those who will eat your canned food how can it ever have an unnecessary margin of error? So many people say “We have canned this way for years and are still alive”. Well, I can say that so did my great grandmother…until one day she ate something that looked fine, smelled fine and tasted fine but it wasn’t. She died. Yes, she ate food that had botulism in it because it was not canned properly. So one can NEVER be to safe…at least in my eyes!

  7. MMaginity says:

    Very informative and well written article! Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully prepare this work. 

  8. Nicely done.  I don’t often bookmark prepper links, but when I do I prefer :)

  9. Stephanie…Excellent Article. You think like me which is scary. Do it right or don’t do it is one of my mottos. For the naysayers…do your homework…we don’t need science. Hogwash. We need to work together and do whats best for our families…follow her advice and at least consider what she is saying. Keep up the good work!

  10. Dan Garner says:

    @APN I was reading reviews on the Ball Blue Book. What I saw was that this book is a reprint from 60+ years ago before scientific facts were known. So is the Ball Blue Book a good reference or is it just as suspect as other recipies?

    • That is a great question Dan. The Ball Blue Book has indeed been in print for a long time – and so have the USDA Canning Guidelines (you’ll notice they are almost the same recipes). 60 years takes you to 1952 – that STILL does not predate the scientific studies that were initially done for canned food. As I mentioned in the article the guidelines have changed very little – sure some adjusting here and there has been done (when new research is done) and a couple of recipe deletions, some additions but mostly the book you would pick up in 1952 would be very similar to the one you can buy in 2012 with a few changes here and there.  Only the 1952 book would be a lot more valuable as an antique, if you ever find one don’t get rid it!  
      My purpose for mentioning the length of time they have been around was not to imply that they are ‘outdated information’ but to show that even though the USDA is currently run by what we consider to be “Big Food Corporations” – the guidelines pre-date that influence. No one suddenly came along and changed a bunch of them to stop people from storing their own food. They haven’t been messed with a lot and I thought knowing that would help some people feel more confident in them.
      Have I only confused you more? The Ball Blue Book is time tested and well researched, it was in 1952 and it still is today. I think that there are versions of it going back to the early 1900s I remember seeing a old copy of it being featured on the Antiques Road Show.   

  11. Dan Garner says:

    Thanks for the information.

  12. Holy smokes when this thing publishes a response to FB it goes crazy with the characters. Sorry about that!

  13. We recommend gaining an understanding the science of ph and preservation by canning. There are some great books out there on the subject. We use the FDA-approved methods set up for commercial canneries.

  14. @Dan: The Ball Blue Book is updated regularly. The USDA/NCHFP (National Center for Home Food Preservation) updated all of their information in 2009.

  15. I saw a comment last night asking for an article about physical fitness in regards to prepping – for anyone wondering that SAME thing, there is in fact, an article in the works by “Nature Nurd” – right here on APN. 

    Keep checking back – a prepping fitness article is coming soon to APN!

    • I got his name wrong there, my apologies, the fitness article will be coming from:

      “thenaturenurd”  — look in the comments above and you will find this APN Author!  😉 

  16. Jim T. Bacon says:

    i have some pre-65 betty crocker cookbooks but havn’t been able to locate a copy of Ball Blue Book around here at all!!! gonna try Amazon next

  17. Those older Betty Crocker books are the best! I have one too from my Grandma.

  18. Pam says:

    Great article! Thank You for the info. Will be starting my canning attempt soon.

  19. Howard says:

    Thank you I am pleased to see someone else is concerned about some of the bad information that is being circulated  on the web.

  20. MorningOwl says:

    Is canned butter (in actual cans not jars) from a commercial company like Red Feather, safe?

    • Absolutely – the capabilities commercial canners far exceed the capabilities of our own home pressure canner. That’s why they can do things like Evaporated Milk, Eggs and Butter.

      Powdered butter is not a bad option of the money either. 

  21. SMG says:

    Thank you SO much for posting this article! I’m an infectious diseases physician, and I grow and can food with only the most meticulous methods. I’ve made a few mistakes in getting started, and have thrown out several hours and $60 worth of food before. I see so many cringe-inducing blog posts on canning, and people seem to accept these offerings as fact, even though they’re not backed up any more than gossip. I’m stunned at how paranoid some folks are about the USDA (or as some spell it, USDuhA—apparently this makes you sound more informed?), even as they’re worried about survival in general. And yet they will happily accept the advice of a person who canned back when canning was a seriously dangerous proposition, and people did it out of sheer necessity and not preference. Botulism will hospitalize a person for months, if they do not die outright, and requires an antitoxin so rarely needed these days that CDC keeps a small supply for emergency uses. It will bankrupt a person, seriously, at best. If you insist on canning inappropriately, please do the rest of us paying for healthcare a favor and save up about $250,000, conservative estimate, to pay for your or your child’s hospitalization. Sharing this article far and wide, thank you!

    • Thank you for the support chickee! (that’s what I call all of my girl friends). I feel the same. How you can be a prepper – a term which denotes the fact that you care whether you live or die, and then disregard proven safe canning methods at the exact same time, completely and utterly confounds me.

      I had hoped this article would educate more than inflame – the jury is still out on that. I got some pretty nasty comments that attacked me personally when this was first published.

  22. Are you saying it is safe to can ghee? If so, by water bath or pressure canning?

    • I was not claiming that it could be canned – merely that it could be a solution to the long term storage question of butter. BUT
      my opinion is that it is theoretically safe to can – but this is not proven by scientific study at all. I am not a food scientist nor a doctor nor a lawyer. So you will have use your own judgement on whether or not to can ghee. If I were to can it – the only way I would do it is by pressure canning it – you wouldn’t have to worry about shaking the jars as they cool because you’ve already removed the dairy fats and ghee doesn’t separate.

      I can tell you that ghee is shelf stable without being canned and without refrigeration and should be good for a year – maybe longer.