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March 11, 2014
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Extension Spotlight: Keep home-canned food safe for savoring later

It’s late winter, complete with rain (finally) and cool, gray days. In a few short months, the wonderfully abundant fruits and vegetables grown in the gardens of the Umpqua Valley will be on your dinner table!

If you love to put up food throughout the growing season by canning, dehydrating, freezing or fermenting, it’s not too early to start brushing up on the most current recommended methods for home food preservation. Don’t know where to go for this information? Keep reading.

The Oregon State University Extension Service operates a Food Safety and Preservation Hotline (1-800-354-7319) year-round. If you have questions about any aspect of food safety or food preservation, call the hotline. Volunteer Master Food Preservers from Douglas and Lane counties, all of whom have undergone 40 hours of intensive training in all aspects of food safety and food preservation, answer callers’ questions. The hotline is most active from July through October when it is staffed four to five days a week. During the remainder of the year, volunteers are on call daily to answer questions.

I’ve worked the hotline every year since becoming a certified master food preserver in 2010. It’s one of my favorite volunteer activities because I get to help people with their problems while keeping my own knowledge and skills up-to-date. For a food nerd like myself, it’s great fun!

But there is a downside. Telling someone to throw away food because it poses a threat to wellness is not any fun at all. For the person who just spent hours preparing and preserving, this news is crushing. What’s the most common reason for recommending disposal of home-canned foods? Not following up-to-date recipes and procedures. The recipes, processing times, and methods you use for food preservation must come from reputable, research-based sources.

If you know anything at all about preserving food, you’ve probably heard horror stories about botulism poisoning. Botulism is a dangerous and life-threatening toxin that can grow under certain conditions. The inside of your just-canned jar of tomatoes, tuna, corn or other food product provides that perfect environment for the growth of botulism — IF you haven’t followed proper procedures.

Food preservation is a science. Safe principles are derived from ongoing and ever-changing research. Modern varieties of produce differ from those grown decades ago. New strains of bacteria are ever-evolving. It’s scientific research that determines the safest methods to prepare and preserve food so it doesn’t make us sick.

Whether you’ve been putting food up for decades or are just beginning this culinary adventure, I ask that you take steps to ensure that the results of your effort are safe for you and your family. Nothing less is acceptable.

Douglas County OSU Extension service is taking applications for the upcoming Master Food Preservers training class. The class meets weekly for eight weeks, starting April 1, at Pine Grove Community Church, 1729 Buckhorn Road, Dixonville. The class fee is $120.

If you are interested in completing the program to become a certified master food preserver, contact the extension office for more information at 541-672-4461 or visit the Extension Service website, extension.oregonstate.edu/douglas.

Diana Pierce is a volunteer master food preserver for OSU Extension Service of Douglas County. If you have questions regarding this article please call the Extension office at 541-672-4461.

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The News-Review Updated Mar 11, 2014 07:36PM Published Mar 31, 2014 09:41AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.