My wife, Mary, burst through the door this past week yelling “We won!” “The lottery?” I asked. “Better than that, I found a box of canning lids at the grocery store!” she screamed. After doing a happy dance around the pressure canner we promptly locked the canning lids securely in the safe until tomato canning season.

I might be embellishing our details a bit, but we all know the frustration of not being able to buy a simple item like canning lids. I asked Rita Ussatis, an extension agent in family and community wellness at the North Dakota State University Extension Cass County office, to update us on the canning lid situation and provide alternative ideas if needed.

Ussatis began by describing her recent experiences at the Red River Valley Fair. “This past week, Cass County 4-H members exhibited their canning products at the fair. The youth exhibits were amazing. The Grand Champion product was a beautiful jar of canned jalapeno peppers.”

Ussatis continues “Seeing these exhibits reminded me of the importance of making sure we are using up-to-date equipment and the importance of research-tested methods. Canning can be a fun and safe way to preserve food, but make sure you do it properly, as food preservation guidelines have changed through the years.”

An example Grand Champion canning is seen July 7, 2021, at the Red River Valley Fair.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
An example Grand Champion canning is seen July 7, 2021, at the Red River Valley Fair. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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She cautions that using recipes handed down from family members or friends might not be safe, because you don’t know if those recipes were tested scientifically. Safe food preservation recipes can be found at your local Extension office, the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at http://nchfp.uga.edu/ and the North Dakota State University Extension website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/food.

I asked Ussatis about the canning lid shortage. “Although canning lids have been in short supply, manufacturers are working hard to deliver canning lids throughout the U.S. I recently was able to purchase the quantity of lids I thought I would need for the upcoming canning season. I could have bought more boxes of lids, but I didn’t want to over-buy or hoard lids as I know many individuals are looking for lids.

“When you do find lids, carefully consider what you will need for the year and just purchase that amount. Be cautious of lids you purchase on-line, as some of these lids are off-brand and it has been reported that they are not always sealing properly.”

Ussatis says people might be tempted to reuse jars from store-bought pickles or pasta sauce, but such jars aren’t meant to be reused for home canning. If used, more jar breakage can be expected compared to standard canning jars.

Used produce jars are not safe for reuse in canning.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Used produce jars are not safe for reuse in canning. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

What if you can’t locate any lids and your vegetables are ready to preserve? Ussatis says freezing food is a safe, easy option as long as you have the freezer space.

“Freezing is one of the easiest, most convenient and least time-consuming ways of preserving fresh fruit and vegetables for later use. Plastic freezer containers and plastic bags designed for freezer storage are best for freezing food.

“Don’t use paper containers, such as milk cartons, or plastic containers that held yogurt, dips and sour cream. Freezer wrap and heavy-weight aluminum foil are good for odd-shaped foods. If you have a favorite salsa recipe that hasn’t been research-tested, the safest way to preserve it is to freeze it rather than canning it.”

Ussatis cautions that vegetables and meats are low-acid foods, which means they do not contain enough acid naturally to prevent bacteria from surviving and growing. The bacteria can produce a deadly toxin in an airtight environment, such as a sealed jar, unless the food is acidic or has been heated under pressure for a specified time.

As an example, she says home-canned tomatoes need to be acidified with lemon juice or citric acid and properly processed to be safe. “Foods such as salsa, which is a mix of acid and low-acid ingredients, need to be acidified properly with lemon juice or vinegar using a tested formula and processed according to current recommendations.”

Ussatis concludes with “Happy canning! If you have any questions, visit the NDSU Extension website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for free information on canning and some tasty, research-tested recipes. You can also contact your local office of NDSU Extension for more information.”

Ussatis can be reached at rita.ussatis@ndsu.edu or 701-241-5700.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu