Jam session
June 30, 2009 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Home canning filter: do I need to sterilize Mason jars/lids by boiling or oven or some other method if I'm using them for fridge pickles and freezer preserves, or am I okay just washing in hot soap and water?

I can find stuff on google about pressure canning doing the sterilizing for you, and about sterilizing if you're processing the canned goods for <10 minutes, but I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to give me and my boyfriend a nasty case of botulism or something by just washing and going.

Also if you have any recommended freezer preserves or fridge pickle recipes, I would love to have them. Working on a farm this summer = lots of free produce and time spent at farmers markets. We just don't have the room in our little apartment for a canner that only gets used a few times a year.
posted by rhoticity to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
From here:

Clostridium botulinum is a soil bacterium. The spores can survive in most environments and are very hard to kill. They can survive the temperature of boiling water at sea level, thus many foods are canned with a pressurized boil that achieves an even higher temperature, sufficient to kill the spores.

Growth of the bacterium can be prevented by high acidity, high ratio of dissolved sugar, high levels of oxygen, very low levels of moisture or storage at temperatures below 38°F (type A). For example in a low acid, canned vegetable such as green beans that are not heated hot enough to kill the spores (i.e., a pressurized environment) may provide an oxygen free medium for the spores to grow and produce the toxin. On the other hand, pickles are sufficiently acidic to prevent growth; even if the spores are present, they pose no danger to the consumer. Honey, corn syrup, and other sweeteners may contain spores but the spores cannot grow in a highly concentrated sugar solution; however, when a sweetener is diluted in the low oxygen, low acid digestive system of an infant, the spores can grow and produce toxin. As soon as infants begin eating solid food, the digestive juices become too acidic for the bacterium to grow.

posted by Pollomacho at 8:28 AM on June 30, 2009

Botulism isn't going to grow in pickles because of the acidity (that's why you don't have to pressure can them). Keep them in the fridge and use them within a month and you'll be fine.
posted by TungstenChef at 8:37 AM on June 30, 2009

Heh, or what Pollomacho said, which I should've actually read instead of just skimming before posting.
posted by TungstenChef at 8:38 AM on June 30, 2009

Best answer: I always run them through the hottest rinse cycle in my dishwasher and let them sit through the "dry" stage where the dishwasher gets very hot. It's always worked for me. I've canned pickles the past two years and they've always been delicious. I have some that have been in a jar for a year and a half - just opened them and they're great!

I also do pressure canning but, if you are new to all of this, I'd advise against it because it can be extremely dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Start with the water bath method this year (high acid foods) because there's a lot less that can go wrong with that. It's a great way to get started. Once you consistently crank out nice canned goods, then consider stepping up to pressure canning if you feel up to the challenge. I've been doing pressure canning for the past two years (mainly dry beans) and I'm still learning a lot about it. It really is an art!

One bit of advice I will give you is to pay very close attention to the headroom in the jars you are canning (space between lid and top of food/brine). If it's too much, the processing won't be able to expel all of the air. If it's too little, food/brine will bubble out and prevent a good seal.

Good luck - it's such a great experience to see where your food comes from and can it yourself to eat throughout the year!
posted by siclik at 8:40 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh! I wanted to add: rather than using glass mason jars for freezer preserves, try these Ball plastic jam jars (designed for the freezer). We use them for freezer jam, refried beans, and spaghetti sauce.

Believe or not, mason jars are VERY sensitive to quick temperature changes. I've broken several recently by putting them in the pressure canner after it was boiling (too hot) and also by trying to store a few things in the freezer. It all add$ up when the jars are $1-2 a piece!
posted by siclik at 8:49 AM on June 30, 2009

am I okay just washing in hot soap and water?

If you can stick your hand in the water without burning it, it's not hot enough to kill much of anything. The soap will kill some, but I wouldn't count on it to do a thorough job.

I always run them through the hottest rinse cycle in my dishwasher and let them sit through the "dry" stage where the dishwasher gets very hot.

I was curious how hot my dishwasher got once, so I stuck the probe from a digital kitchen thermometer in there and let it run. It got up to about 208°F during the dry cycle.
[I offer this as information only, neither advocating for or against using the dishwasher for sterilization. Also, your dishwasher may achieve a different maximum temperature than mine.]
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:15 AM on June 30, 2009

The other advantage of a good run through the dishwasher is that most dishwasher detergents contain a lot of chlorine/bleach which will kill or wash away a lot of stuff that hot soap won't. But for acidic stuff that's in the fridge, it shouldn't be a big deal. Use it within a month and everything should be OK. If you not canning it proper then even in the fridge it won't last forever.
posted by GuyZero at 9:18 AM on June 30, 2009

Mom always had a tub on the stove and let the jars simmer a while as the other parts of the canning were underway, then using those shaped tongs she pulled them out onto a towell to cool. I was like 8 but I do remember the hot jars cooling. Never had issues with the results.
posted by Freedomboy at 9:26 AM on June 30, 2009

When it comes to put-aways, I always say 'better safe than sorry.' Boil jars and bands for 10 minutes, then pull out as you need them. No sense in going through all the work of canning, processing, etc. if you end up with some funk in your veggies later.
posted by Gilbert at 10:06 AM on June 30, 2009

Response by poster: Unfortunately, we don't have a dishwasher, but I think our neighbors would let me throw some things in if I promise them a jar or two later. Thanks for the help, all!
posted by rhoticity at 10:33 AM on June 30, 2009

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