Preserving Know-how/ Summer

Be a Savvy Consumer!

It is the time of year when we visit markets and farm-gates in search of local produce and products. I was prompted to write this piece after recently visiting a farm-gate where stewed rhubarb and jam were being sold in Cheese Whiz jars. As a food preserver or a consumer, there are a few things you should keep in mind as a savvy consumer!

In the US, there is an extensive infrastructure to support food preservation research and evidence-based practice. The research is aggregated by the National Centre for Home Food Preservation located at the University of Georgia. The science generated there informs the regulations of the USDA. Equally important is the commitment to disseminate the knowledge throughout the States. This is done though the university cooperative extension programs which offer a Master Food Preserver course. Eighteen universities across the US offer these programs across their respective States. These universities are big-time like UCLA, Cornell, Perdue, the University of Washington etc. The objective is to help people develop knowledge and skills to safely preserve food at home. In some States, like New York and Vermont, a person must have completed the Master Food Preserver program to sell products in a store, market, or farm-gate.

The contrast with Canada is remarkable. We have not one Master Food Preserver program or anything vaguely resembling one. We have no infrastructure to support food preservation at home. We have no regulations about preserved food sales at markets or farm-gates other than no preserved meats or dairy. While I have had to become Public Health approved to sell at a store, and I must have inspections, keep detailed records, comply with labelling requirements and so on, most people simply sell at markets or farm-gates without regulations. In fact, some religious and fraternal organizations are completely exempt from Public Health regulations.

My colleague and I, along with other interested parties, are making an effort to introduce a Master Food Preserver program in Canada. We know there is incredible interest in food preservation and a growing number of people who want to preserve; to know what is in their food, to have a lighter footprint on the planet and to be less dependent on commercial food production. We will continue the effort not only to help people learn, but also to allow consumers to have greater confidence in what is being sold at our markets and farm-gates.

In the meantime, here are some tips for making you a savvy consumer of preserved goods:

Ask vendors how they process their products. All jams, jellies, relishes, pickles, salsas etc must be heat processed using a water bath or atmospheric steam canning process.

Check jars: Mason jars with lids and rings are the only recommended jars for home food preservation. Never buy anything that is in a previously used commercial jar!

Check labels for contents and date of production or best before dates.

Ask about recipes: The vendor should be able to give you a source especially one that is current and reputable (Bernardin, National Centre for Home Food Preservation, Canadian Living). If you hear a response like “we’ve done this for years”, take a pass.

Storing: If you buy something in a Mason jar, when you get home, remove the ring on the jar if you are putting it in your pantry for later use. If anything goes wrong with the contents, the lid will pop. If the ring is off, it will be clearly evident and will indicate the jar should be thrown out.

Enjoy the markets and farm-gates but be a knowledgeable consumer when it comes to home preserved foods. And, please help us advocate for the creation of a Master Food Preserver program in Canada!!!

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