Prevention needed with sweet spreads

Posted: Sunday, August 25, 2002

Many Alaskans take pride in sharing their homemade berry sweet spreads with friends and relatives. To prevent unsatisfactory results and to assure a safe, top quality product check with the Cooperative Extension, USDA, major manufacturers of home canning equipment, or other trained professionals to make certain you have the most current canning information.

In the Alaska Cooperative Extension publication entitled, "Collecting and Using Alaska's Wild Berries," you are encouraged to, "Avoid following the home canning advice of untrained celebrities, old cookbooks and other canning publications and magazine articles that do not quote reliable, updated research-based sources for their information. There may be two important steps missing from old recipes that serve as 'an ounce of prevention.'"

Missing step No. 1: Sterilize empty jars. All jams, jellies and pickled products processed less than 10 minutes should be filled into sterile, empty jars. To sterilize empty jars, put them right side up on the rack in a boiling water canner. Fill the canner and jars with hot water to 1-inch above the tops of the jars. Boil 10 minutes. Save the hot water for processing filled jars. Keep jars hot until filling them.

Missing step No. 2: Use a boiling water bath method. According to the USDA Guide to Home Canning, "Even though sugar helps preserve jellies and jams, molds can grow on the surface of these products. Research now indicates that the mold which people usually scrape off the surface of jellies may not be as harmless as it seems.

Mycotoxins have been found in some jars of jelly having surface mold growth. Mycotoxins are known to cause cancer in animals; their effects on humans are still being researched."

The boiling water bath process insures a vacuum seal and removes the oxygen required for mold growth.

Because of possible mold contamination, paraffin or wax seals are not recommended for any sweet spread, including jellies. To prevent growth of mold and loss of good flavor or color, fill products hot into sterile Mason jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space, seal with self-sealing lids, and process five minutes in a boiling water canner. If unsterile jars are used, the filled jars should be processed 10 minutes.

Use of sterile jars is preferred, especially when fruits are low in pectin, since the added five minute process time may cause weak gels.

For more information on preserving berries, contact the Cooperative Extension Service at 262-5824.

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Develop-ment programs. The Kenai Peninsula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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