Preserve Food And Increase Shelf Life
Article and Audio Introduction by Samantha Kennedy
Springtime in north Florida means sunshine, blooms, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables from the garden. Having a bumper crop is a good problem, but making sure all that fresh produce is not wasted takes planning.
Three ways to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables safely are freezing, drying, and canning. Each of these preservation methods will extend the shelf-life of foods for weeks or months while inhibiting the growth of bacteria which can cause food-borne illness.
Freezing fruits and vegetables is the simplest way to preserve them. However, preparation is the key to proper freezing. Most fruits cannot be frozen whole and should be pitted, peeled, and sliced or chopped before freezing for the best results. Vegetables should be blanched, cooled, and chopped before freezing to maintain maximum color, flavor, and nutrition.
Frozen fruits and vegetables should be stored in sturdy containers with tight-fitting lids or heavy-duty zippered plastic bags made for the freezer. If prepared and stored properly, frozen fruits and vegetables can stay fresh and flavorful for up to 12 months. After that, quality can diminish drastically.
Another great way to preserve spring’s harvest is through drying. Drying, or dehydrating, is the process of removing excess water from food. Removing the water not only extends a food’s shelf-life, but also prevents bacteria from growing.
Drying food can be done three ways: in the oven, in the sun, or in a dehydrator. The fastest and safest way is with a dehydrator, since many ovens do not allow a low enough heat setting for proper drying and it is generally too humid outside to safely achieve sun drying in Florida.
Fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, and meats can all be dried in a dehydrator and stored for months in air-tight containers. Dehydrated fruits can last up to 12 months when properly stored. Vegetables last about half as long.
Dried meats (jerky) have a shelf-life of about two weeks at room temperature if prepared properly. For a longer storage time, freeze or refrigerate.
Canning is another effective way to preserve fruits and vegetables. This means of preservation involves preparing the food according to USDA recommendations and processing it in glass canning jars at the right temperature and pressure to ensure food safety.
Fruits are especially versatile for canning, as they can be canned by themselves or made into jams, jellies, preserves, butters, and marmalades and processed in a boiling water canner. Because of their low acidity vegetables need to be processed in a pressure canner.
Pressure canning is not as scary as it sounds, though it does require the proper equipment. Food inside a pressure canner reaches very high temperatures and pressures in order to prevent the growth of illness-causing bacteria. Gauged pressure canners need to be tested annually to make sure they are in good working order.
The USDA recommends home canned foods be consumed within 12 months for maximum safety and quality. Store canned foods in a cool, dark, dry place and clearly label and date each jar so older foods are used first.
Upcoming Classes On Preserving Food
The UF/IFAS Extension Service is offering two food preservation workshops in Wakulla County during May 2018. The Spring Vegetable Canning Workshop will be held on May 14 at 6:00pm and will teach participants the basics of pressure canning vegetables.
The Food Dehydrating workshop will be held on May 19 at 9:00am. This workshop will teach participants the basics of drying food in a dehydrator. Both workshops are $10.00 per person.
For more information on food preservation or to register for one of our upcoming workshops, please call Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences agent, at (850) 926-3631.