The Dangerous Reason You Shouldn’t Copy Grandma’s Canning Recipes

Are you willing to play Russian roulette with your canned foods? I'm not!

There are so many great recipes that have been passed down generation after generation. We make these dinner recipes from Grandma’s recipe box all the time! But according to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, following older canning recipes may be unsafe. You can’t just hot pack tomatoes and pickles without processing them anymore!

Their experts re-tested a number of previously recommended recipes, and they found that the process didn’t reach high enough temperatures to kill botulism-causing spores. Yikes! As it turns out, many foods have changed since our grandparents’ time. Tomatoes, for example, are less acidic today than ancestral (aka heirloom) tomatoes. It might have been safe back then to just pop ’em in a jar and seal the lid, but today’s recipes require additional processing time (in addition to acidifying the tomatoes by adding bottled lemon juice).

What’s the Risk?

The biggest risk-factor for canning is botulism, a toxin that’s caused by bacteria present in most foods. These bacteria are normally harmless, but they can create spores which thrive under certain conditions, like low-oxygen, low-acid, low-sugar, and low-salt foods. Sounds like most things you put into a canning jar! If you improperly preserve your foods, those spores can grow and create the botulism toxin. When consumed, botulism can cause you to become seriously ill—or worse.

Luckily, the botulism toxin is destroyed after it’s boiled for 10 minutes, which is why modern canning recipes call for water bath processing in addition to the hot-pack. Low-acid foods (like tomatoes, unpickled vegetables, and meat products) may require pressure canning to ensure the proper temperatures are reached to destroy the spores.

So…I Can’t Use Old-Time Recipes?

Sure, you can still use these recipes if you plan to freeze the leftovers. Clemson Extension found that freezing old-time recipes created no safety issues, so if you have space in the freezer, you can still make Grandma’s favorite canned foods. If you don’t, well, sounds like you could use these freezer organizing tips.

Modifying old canning recipes can be risky. The safest (and best) way to preserve your food is to use currently tested, scientifically validated recipes from trusted sources—that’s what we do.

Read on to learn how to avoid the most common mistakes everyone makes when canning. Then, you’ll be ready to confidently try out some of our favorite canning recipes!

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.