Category Archives: Food Safety

That Leftover Pickling Brine

A frequent question lately has been about re-using that leftover pickling brine when making homemade quick pickles.

Sometimes quick pickles are made by heating cut pickbrine
or sliced vegetables in a vinegar solution to acidify them. If this is done prior to filling jars, we refer to that as a hot pack method for canning: heating vegetables in the pickling liquid before filling them into your jars and covering with the hot liquid. Other times, quick pickles are made by the raw pack for canning: prepared raw vegetables are placed directly into the jars and then the hot pickling liquid is filled over them into the jars.

Once you heat, or even soak, your vegetables in your pickling solution, pH changes start to happen. (Heating makes the interaction happen faster.) The vegetables become more acidic, which is what we want to happen in pickling. However, the pickling solution then becomes less acidic. So if your recipe is a hot pack for canned pickles, and you have heated your vegetables in the pickling solution (“brine”), then you should not use leftover brine from filling jars for another round of the recipe. The expected ratio of acid to low-acid ingredients and ultimate pH adjustment in the next recipe will not be the same.

If you are making a usual raw-pack recipe for canned pickles and have leftover vinegar or pickling solution, then that could be used for another round of the recipe if you have a significant amount left over. An example of this type of raw pack would be pickled dill green beans, or quick dill cucumber pickles. The beans or cucumbers are never combined with the vinegar solution until it is filled over them in the canning jars.  The initial boiling may have concentrated the vinegar (and other ingredients like salt or sugar) just a little, but that does not make it less safe.  If you boiled it quite a bit to concentrate the mixture, you may not want to use it for its effect on flavor, however.

In some recipes, sliced raw cucumbers are soaked for hours in the pickling liquid (vinegar, sugar and/or salt, for example). Then the liquid is drained off the cucumber slices into a pan. The soaked raw slices are filled into jars while the liquid is then heated and poured over them. Even though this is a raw pack in terms of filling jars, this vinegar solution had its original pH (acidity) altered from that initial soaking before it was heated and poured into jars. It should not be used again for a canned pickle recipe since it is now of unknown acidity.

Leftover solutions from preparing a canning recipe could be used to flavor some veggies that only get stored in the refrigerator. This would be similar to marinating for flavor. Not knowing each recipe and situation, I cannot give you a definite storage time for this new mixture in your refrigerator.  I would treat it as a fresh vegetable salad and consumer it within several days in most cases.  And remember, home refrigerators should keep foods at 40 degrees F or lower!

Unfortunately some of our “legacy” USDA pickling recipes, as well as those from other sources, and especially those using whole pickling cucumbers, do result in some leftover brine after filling jars. Different varieties of pickling cucumbers have varying diameters and lengths and will not always fit into canning jars to the same degree. Therefore, there are more uncertainty and variable results in issuing recommendations for general use.

Do realize that the safety of pickle recipes for home canning in boiling water will depend a great deal on the ratio of ingredients and preparation steps including piece size. And not all pickle recipes produce the same final, equilibrated, pH in the vegetable and brine. Even though safe for boiling water processing, the length of the process time needed for keeping them on the shelf at room temperature can vary depending on the actual acidity.

Our Pickled Products recommendations for home canning can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website or in So Easy to Preserve, 6th edition, from the University of Georgia. The University of Georgia Extension also has two factsheets that can be downloaded for free, Pickled Products and Canning Relishes. Please be safe in choosing your pickling recipes for canning!

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Freezing Ahead for the Holidays

There is nothing like a hot bowl of homemade soup on a chilly winter’s day. But who has time to make it? Schedules are busy during school days and holidays. Just imagine having a freezer full of delicious, homemade meals ready to be heated and served when you get home from work. Even better than that, picture yourself stress-free during the holidays because you prepared and froze your holiday meals and treats in advance. Freezing prepared foods in advance allows you the satisfaction of homemade meals with the convenience of store-bought ones.

There are just a few things to keep in mind when freezing prepared foods. Freezing will not improve the texture, flavor, or quality of food. It simply acts to preserve the quality of the food. Therefore, you should only freeze high quality products. After cooking the food you plan to freeze, be sure it is cooled quickly to maintain the safety of the food. Be sure to package foods for the freezer in moisture-vapor resistant materials to prevent freezer burn. Clearly label each package with the name of the food, ingredients, packaging date, special instructions, and the amount of food. Package foods only in amounts that you will be able to use at one time. Freeze food as soon as it is packaged and sealed, and place in the coldest part of the freezer. Remember to research the ingredients ahead of time to see what foods do not freeze well (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/dont_freeze_foods.html), and to see if there are any special instructions for preparing and freezing your product (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/FreezingPreparedFoods.pdf).

Several options are available for thawing prepared foods. The frozen food can be taken directly from the freezer and immediately placed in the oven for thawing and heating as long as it is in a freezer-to-oven safe container. Some foods are best thawed and heated using a double boiler. Foods that contain fish, meat, eggs or other high protein ingredients should be thawed in the refrigerator or microwave. To ensure the safety of your food, do not allow these potentially hazardous foods to stay in the temperature danger zone (40°F-140°F) for more than 2 hours. Breads, cakes, and cookies that are precooked may be thawed at room temperature. Reheat all prepared foods except non-meat baked goods, sweets and fruits to at least 165°F quickly, within 2 hours.

Planning ahead and freezing prepared foods is a great way to keep homemade food on your dinner table without all of the stress and hassle.

Be Safe When Using Frozen Foods

hereMany of us use our freezers to put up goodies from the frozvegfresh harvest season. Others use the freezer to put together homemade meals or recipes ready to be cooked or reheated when cooking from scratch just is not on our schedule for the day or week. Freezing prepared foods in advance allows us the satisfaction of homemade meals with the convenience of store-bought ones.

Freezing foods does not improve on poor texture, flavor or quality of foods, so choose your ingredients and products well. The way foods are prepared and packaged for freezing, as well as the temperature of the freezer, will greatly influence how well food will keep in the freezer. Quality in, quality out.

What I would like to emphasize is keeping food safe during thawing and later use out of the freezer. Several options are available for thawing prepared foods. The frozen food can be taken directly from the freezer and immediately placed in the oven for thawing and heating as long as it is in a freezer-to-oven safe container. Some foods are best reheated using a double boiler and can be thawed that way also. Foods that contain fish, meat, eggs or other high protein ingredients should be thawed in the refrigerator or microwave. To ensure the safety of your food, do not allow these potentially hazardous foods to stay in the temperature danger zone (40°F-140°F) for more than 2 hours. Plan ahead because refrigerator thawing can take some time. If you thaw potentially hazardous foods in the microwave, you should go ahead and finish the cooking and not store the thawed food as is.  The cooking can be done in the microwave itself, or using other cooking methods.

Breads, cakes, and cookies without cream fillings that are precooked may be thawed at room temperature. Reheat all prepared foods except non-meat baked goods, sweets and fruits to at least 165°F quickly, within 2 hours. Specifics for different kinds of foods can be found in Freezing Prepared Foods.  Other freezing pointers on thawing, packaging, freezer management, and foods that do not freeze well can be found here.

Planning ahead and freezing prepared foods is a great way to keep homemade food on your dinner table without all of the stress and hassle of last minute preparation. But be sure to keep food safety in mind when it’s time to serve your goodies.

Pop Quiz: What Time Is It?

dial=gauge pressure cannerDial Gauge Testing Time! As the temperatures warm (or not so much) let that be a reminder it’s the time of year again to get your pressure canner dial gauge tested. Dial gauges need to be tested for accuracy before each canning season or after dropping or banging it.

The manufacturer of your pressure canner is best able to provide you with instruction for inspection/gauge testing. Some companies require that you mail it in to them. You may also ask at a local hardware store or contact your local Cooperative Extension office, as some of them will do gauge testing for some brands of dial gauge pressure canners if they have an agent at that location who is trained to do so. Select your state from the drop-down list on this search tool to locate your county office:  Find Your Local Extension Office.

Also as part of an annual “check-up”, make sure all parts of your pressure canner are in good condition.  If your canner has a rubber gasket, make sure it is flexible and soft, not brittle, sticky or cracked. Check the openings on any small pipes or vent ports to be sure they are clean and clear of any debris.

If you don’t have a pressure canner and are thinking about getting one, then make sure you select a pressure canner that is capable of holding at least 4 quart-size jars upright, on the rack, with a lid that secures airtight. If it is smaller than that, we do not recommend it for home canning using USDA canning procedures.

Whether your pressure canner has not yet been used this season or is new out of the box, it is a good idea to make sure it is working properly before preparing a canner load of jars.  Put several inches of water in your pressure canner, and pressurize it as if canning.  Make sure it gets to the pressure needed and can be maintained there without leaking.  This is a good time to practice de-pressurizing the canner as if it had jars in it and then go through the steps for opening your canner as desired.  Read step-by-step procedures for using pressure canners on the NCHFP website.

IMG_1027This blog post contains a revision of Can Your Vegetables Safely by Dr. Elizabeth Andress.