Canning Dry Beans: It Matters How They Go in the Jar

As a low-acid food, all beans require the use of a pressure canner for preservation by home canning, unless they are sufficiently pickled (acidified) to bring them out of the low-acid food category. But pressure canning isn’t a magic bullet if you don’t know the safe way to prepare food and carry out the right process for each food type and style. If you are new to pressure canning or could use a refresher of the basic how-to, then please read Using Pressure Canners before beginning. If this is your first time canning, then also read Principles of Home Canning from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. 

The USDA recommended processes in the Complete Guide to Home Canning for home canning dried beans require a hydration step prior to filling jars:   https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/beans_peas_shelled.html

The options are to (1) place sorted (for stones or other contaminants) dried beans or peas in a large pot and cover with water. Soak the beans 12 to 18 hours in a cool place. Then drain off the soaking water and do not use it in canning the beans. The other option is, to more quickly hydrate the beans (2) cover the sorted and washed beans with boiling water in a saucepan. Boil them 2 minutes, remove them from the heat, soak them 1 hour and then drain. That cooking water is also not used in canning the beans.

The procedure then calls for covering drained beans hydrated by either method with fresh water and boil 30 minutes. The USDA canning process recommendation is for a hot pack prepared this way only: hot beans boiled 30 minutes then filled quickly into jars while still hot. (But of course being careful not to burn yourself, as with all canning steps.) Optional salt can be added to the beans in the jars if desired (½ teaspoon of salt per pint or 1 teaspoon per quart jar). The jars with cooked beans (and salt if added) then get filled with the hot cooking water, leaving 1-inch headspace. As with all jars packed this way, water should cover the food pieces for expected heat distribution during processing and best quality in storage of the canned beans.  See the link above for full instructions and the processing times and temperatures (pressures) for pints vs quarts, and for various altitudes.

According to inquiries I get, and what I read elsewhere on the Internet, it is popular practice to put dry beans in the jars, cover them with water and put them into the pressure canner that way. Unfortunately, I have never found or been shown research for home canning that has determined what the process time should be for dry beans filled into jars in this manner.  A safe process time is partially dependent on jar size and type of food, yes, but it is also partially dependent on the texture of the food, the temperature of the food and liquid, and the weight of the food filled into jars.  Dry beans sitting in water at the start of the process time will not heat up at the same rate as beans prepared as described in the research-based method described above and in the USDA materials. The final sterilization of the jar contents achieved by the end of the process will not be the same as when the process is applied to jars filled as described in the recommended methods.  People canning their dry beans by other methods, and especially by starting with dry beans in the jars, are taking a big risk on food spoilage and possibly botulism food poisoning.  Those doing this and getting away with it have just been lucky – so far.

I guess part of my message is do not expect me to endorse or support this method of filling jars for home canning of dry beans.  If you choose to do it, you are taking a chance by your own decision.

There are also different processes for different types of beans and dry bean recipes for home canning. For canning dry beans, there are research-based processes in the USDA database for Baked Beans, prepared as described in the process directions, and Dry Beans with Tomato or Molasses Sauce versions provided.

If you have fresh beans of the Lima variety, then follow these directions for Fresh, Shelled, Lima Beans. Follow these similar procedures, but slightly different directions for Snap and Italian Green and Wax Beans. As you’re deciding whether to prepare a hot pack or raw pack, remember that hot packs are often considered to produce the highest quality final product, and you can often fit more beans into one jar, even though raw packs do cut down on the prep time.

The home canning processes which we can recommend for these various bean products can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at this menu: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can4_vegetable.html .

Please be safe in your home canning choices. The research-based processes available may seem very limiting and traditional but there has been little public funding for researching new recommendations in a long time and there are few labs set up and staffed to do home canning research. You can flavor or combine your home canned vegetables with other ingredients after opening them, at the time of serving, rather than risk botulism or losing money from spoiled food from making up a process for your own recipes. This solution doesn’t address choosing an easier way to fill jars than has been tested such as with dry beans, but is something to consider for other food choices.

Even though this has been about dry beans, I hope you all are looking forward to another season of local, fresh vegetables coming in like I am!

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Vidalia Onions Are In!

It’s May in Georgia and that means Vidalia onion season. While these are famous for their sweet flavor, there are numerous varieties and colors of onions. Onions are used in many unique, flavorful condiments – relishes, salsas, pickles, and jams to name some of the most common. Sometimes we just need to preserve onions themselves.

I’m often asked why our University of Georgia So Easy to Preserve book does not have the option of freezing diced onions. Well, I can’t explain why it was never in the early editions and we just haven’t been able to issue a whole new edition since the 6th edition in 2014. This is one of the drawbacks of a large book that you don’t revise or reproduce for one issue at a time.  We have had this additional option on our Freezing Onions page at the National Center for Home Food Preservation for the past few years:
https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/onion.html

Peeled, washed onions can be diced or chopped (1/4-1/2 inch pieces suggested) and frozen without blanching. If you have room in your freezer, it is best to spread the pieces out on a clean cookie/baking sheet in a single layer.  When they are frozen (hardened), promptly remove from the tray and package air-tight in freezer bags or containers while they are still hard.  This keeps pieces separated in their freezer packaging enough that you will be able to remove only as much as you want at a time.  If they are all put into the bag or container at room temperature, they will freeze into one large mass and not as separate pieces. If you are going to remove part of the amount frozen at a time versus using the whole amount, it works best to use freezer bags, so you can push the air out when you re-seal the remaining frozen pieces.  In a hard container, the air left in the box/jar as you keep removing some is not good for quality and can cause freezer burn (drying out of the food).

The National Center for Home Food Preservation also has this webpage with more ideas and tips for preserving onions: https://nchfp.uga.edu/tips/summer/onions.html.  At the end of it, there are links to our Canning Relishes factsheet with several that emphasize onions and others that contain some onion content.

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Play it Safe with Easter Eggs!

If Easter egg decorating is on your list of activities this spring, play it safe when handling fresh and hard cooked eggs! To avoid the possibility of foodborne illness, fresh eggs must be handled and stored correctly. Even eggs with clean, shells with no cracks may occasionally contain bacteria called Salmonella that can cause an intestinal infection. And, once eggs have been cooked, food safety rules apply for proper handling, serving and storing.

 Food safety tips if you plan to eat the dyed eggs later:

  • Start by washing hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after food handling. Wash hands during each step of handling eggs before dyeing them.
  • Hard-cook, dye, and refrigerate the eggs within two hours.
  • Use only food safe natural or commercial dyes.
  • Non-refrigerated Easter eggs that are used as decorations should not be eaten.
  • Hunt eggs for 2 hours or less, 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is 90°F or higher.
  • Hunt only eggs that have been refrigerated with non-cracked shells before hiding.
  • Hide eggs in areas that are clean, protected from dirt, pets and other highly possibly sources of large numbers of bacteria. Make sure the area has not been treated with various lawn and/or insect control chemicals.
  • Wash “found” eggs and refrigerate right away at 40°F or below.
  • Eggs must be eaten within seven days of cooking.

Food safety tips for blown out egg shells used in decorating:

  • Use only eggs that have been kept refrigerated and are not cracked.
  • Before blowing out eggs, wash the eggs in hot water. Then rinse them in a solution of 1 teaspoon liquid chlorine bleach per half cup of water.
  • Be careful not to get any of the raw egg into your mouth or on your lips.
  • The contents blown out of the eggs could be used, but they must be refrigerated right after being blown out and used within 2-4 days.
  • These contents should be used only in foods that are cooked thoroughly before eating, such as breads and cakes.

Freezing eggs:

The contents of raw whole eggs may be frozen for later use. To freeze raw whole eggs:

Thoroughly mix yolks and whites. Do not whip in air. To prevent graininess in the yolks, add 1½ tablespoons sugar, 1½ tablespoons corn syrup OR ½ teaspoon salt per cup whole eggs, depending on intended use. Strain through a sieve, or colander to improve uniformity. Package, allowing ½ inch headspace. Seal and freeze. Another method of freezing whole egg mixture is to use ice trays. Measure 3 tablespoons of egg mixture into each compartment of an ice try. Freeze until solid. Remove frozen cubes, and package in moisture-vapor resistant containers. Seal and freeze. Three tablespoons of the egg mixture (one cube) equals one whole egg

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References: The Incredible Egg website, American Egg Board. Easter & Egg Safety, at https://www.incredibleegg.org/easter/easter-egg-safety/

The Partnership for Food Safety Education. Egg-stra Care for Spring Celebrations, at http://www.fightbac.org/egg-stra-care-for-spring-celebrations/

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Freezing Animal Products. Eggs. In So Easy to Preserve, 6th Edition, 2014, p. 298.

 

 

Learn Before Canning Vegetables

Another tragic story has been told about botulism poisoning resulting from improperly home-canned peas. Three women arrived at a New York hospital on morning last summer with acute nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, slurred speech, droopy eyelid, thick-feeling tongue, and shortness of breath. This was about 14 hours after they shared a homemade potato salad containing home-canned peas. (Of course, not the most common type of potato salad to many!) CDC released botulinum antitoxin that was administered to all patients about 12 hours after arrival at the hospital. All three patients survived, BUT, two developed respiratory failure requiring intubation and mechanical ventilation in the emergency room and the third was intubated that evening.  All three did require prolonged intensive care, with a range of 34-54 days, and rehabilitation.

Because a family freezer malfunctioned, one of the patients home-canned commercially frozen peas to “save them”. This was done 1-2 weeks before consumption. It turns out this person used directions for preserving a peach preserve in a boiling water canner, unaware that low-acid vegetables needed pressure canning to eliminate spores of C. botulinum. This is a good reminder that frozen vegetables may contain these spores as well as fresh ones. After processing, one of the jars did not seal so she refrigerated it. These are the peas consumed in the potato salad.

Yes, our USDA guidelines say that foods in jars not sealing after processing could be refrigerated and consumed within several days. HOWEVER, this is for jars correctly processed in the first place that did not pull a vacuum to seal the jar. Toxin was recovered from the jar and leftover food in the potato salad bowl. And that toxin matched that in stool specimens from two of the patients. Yes, it was those peas.

The closed jar of peas containing spores of C. botulinum held in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks did indeed produce toxin. These spores like a low-acid, moist, oxygen-free environment. I wonder what the refrigerator temperature was, also.

dial=gauge pressure cannerPlease use recommended, science-based processing methods for home canned foods, especially low-acid ones. And if processing errors occur, discard the food or reprocess according to recommended guidelines within 24 hours. And, this is a reminder that even foods made with commercially processed ingredients can lead to serious consequences including death, if canned incorrectly.

See www.homefoodpreservation.net, the 2015 USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html) and So Easy to Preserve, 6th ed. (https://setp.uga.edu/).

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Reference:  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 68(1):251-252. March 15, 2019. Notes from the Field: Botulism Outbreak Associated with Home-Canned Peas — New York City, 2018.  https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6810a5.htm