Water Bath Canning: Questions & Answers

Know the Proper Techniques for Canning Preservation Success

by Stephanie Thurow
PHOTO: Fresh strawberries preserved in jars as homemade jam and jelly. Photo by zigzagmtart

Water bath canning is a technique that can bring up lots of questions. As a food preservation author, instructor and certified master food preserver, I receive a lot of repeat questions. Here is a short list of five common water bath canning questions that I’m often asked and the answers.

If you aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to supplies, check out 5 Supplies You’ll Need to Water Bath Can.

Top 5 Water Bath Canning Questions with Answers

1. Do my jars need to be sterilized?

Old recipe books will call for you to sterilize your jars. However, if you are following a recipe that calls for you to water bath your jars of food for 10 minutes or longer, you do not need to sterilize your jars prior to filling them. This is a rule that has changed over the years.

If the recipe you are following calls for a processing time under 10 minutes, you will need to sterilize your jars prior to filling. To do so, you’ll need to boil your empty jars for at least 10 minutes prior to filling.

2. Can I reuse my jars, lids and rings?

When it comes to water bath canning, it is not recommended by the National Center for Home Food Preservation to reuse your canning lids more than once for water bath canning. You can use them for food storage, fermentation or other purposes, but not again for canning. However, the canning jar ring and glass jar can be reused as long as they are not flawed. Be sure to check your jars for chips around the rims or cracks within the glass, prior to using them for food preservation. The rings should be in good condition, circular and not deformed or bent.

3. Why is the garlic in my preserve green?

Sometimes garlic will turn green/blue during processing. This is caused by a chemical reaction and there is no harm or concern. The freshness of garlic plays a factor as well.

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4. If my jars don’t seal, can I reprocess them?

First of all, it can take up to 12 hours for your jars to seal. All too often, people write to me and ask about their jar seals within a few minutes or few hours of processing. Do not touch your jars after removing them from the water bath. Allow them to completely cool down before testing the seal. Give them 12+ hours.

If your jar indeed does not seal, you can reprocess it if it is within a 24-hour window. I do recommend reprocessing for jams and other fruit spreads, however not so much for pickles or foods that can break down/soften even more during a second processing. For example, if I have a jar of pickles that did not seal, instead of re-boiling and cooking further, I’ll instead just transfer them to the refrigerator and enjoy them preserved that way.

5. Why did my jar break in the canner?

If the jar of food that you submerged in the water bath canner is too cool and your canner water is too hot, it can cause the jar to break. There is too much of a discrepancy between the temperature of the hot water bath and the jar of food, this is called thermal sho

To avoid this, reduce the heat of the water bath before submerging your jars of food. Once you have the water bath canner filled, apply the lid and turn up the heat until it reaches a rolling boil and then begin your timer per the recipe you’re following.

Another reason this can happen is if you are canning without a barrier on the bottom of your water bath canner. Don’t forget your canning rack. It’s not only important for avoiding thermal shock, but it also helps the water circulate around all parts of the canning jar to safely heat your food.

This article about water bath canning questions and answers was written for Hobby Farms magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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