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Does Canning Save You Money? Here Are The Numbers & a Full Guide

In today's fluctuating market of food prices, everyone is looking for a way to cut costs. Canning food has become popular for good reason, as people discover how entertaining and cost-effective it can be.

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Canning food saves money. Costs can be cut by buying fruit, vegetables & meats at low prices in bulk when they're in season. Canning empowers you to have more control of what you eat since you can choose what ingredients to use when canning. It's a great way to preserve food for extended periods.

Several jars of canned vegetables sitting outside surrounded by fresh veggies and herbs.

In this guide, I'll go over all aspects of canning foods, including the following:

  • Pros and cons of canning
  • How-to can properly
  • Risks and precautions of canning food
  • A monthly guide for what to can when to get the biggest bang for your buck
  • Economic savings vs time balance of home canning.

Canning is something that I love to do, and I hope you find facts and wisdom here that help you with your home canning adventures!

Canning History

In 1809 a French gentleman named Nicolas Appert invented the process to keep food from spoiling by preserving it in an airtight sealed container. A practice called canning.

Only after the Mason jar was patented were people using jars instead of tins to pickle and store foodstuff, but the name stuck nonetheless. Walk with me through this fascinating pastime activity with so many people jumping on the canning wagon.

What Is Canning?

Canning is but one of the ten methods of preserving food safely at home. Food-borne illnesses can arise from unsafe food storage if not done using proper precautions. Canning consists of safely removing air and sealing jars of food to store it for an amount of time without the need to freeze or refrigerate it.

Does Canning Save You Money?

Canning is a great money saver! Including cheap stock into your budget, the most expensive item on your list will be your time in making the canned goods. Canning will save dollars per batch if planned properly.

Here are some ways to save money with canning:

  • Know how to look for bargains on fresh produce.
  • Buy in bulk and can your groceries while they're fresh and blemish-free.
  • Browse farmers markets and find cheap sales on barrels of goods.
  • Time your canning activities during their harvest season.

Does Canning Save You Time?

Time is the only expensive ingredient in the art of canning foodstuff. If you are like me, who enjoys chopping and dicing in the kitchen, you will find the preparation of canning goods fun and the time will fly by.

Preparing and pre-cooking food to store in jars does take some time and effort, and you should schedule at least a few hours in your day for the task.

Wash the fruit and vegetables properly and use only the best of the batch. Make sure to inspect the items for discoloration and imperfections and only include the prime of your purchase.

How Much Does It Cost To Start Canning?

Contrary to what people might expect, starting up your canning hobby is not that expensive, except for the star role-player.

A good stock pot like this one from Amazon is a practical once-off purchase. It's non-stick, dishwasher and oven safe, and has a 12-quart capacity, making it ideal for cooking family-size meals.

If you invest in a properly sized appliance, you will never need to buy another.

A few items are vital to operating efficiently, but a lot of them you might already own. Apart from the flat pieces for the lids, almost everything will be bought once and reused every season. Let's take a look at some options of equipment and their approximate cost (links take you to the recommended products on Amazon):

EquipmentCost
Pressure canner~ $65 - $100.
High-quality pressure canner~ $250
Water bath canner$20 - $45
Mason jars that use two-piece lids$7 - $15 per dozen
Flats for the lids$2 - $3 per dozen, up to $30 per 100
Canning starter kit$17 - $25

Another option is to buy the pieces of a starter kit separately. Here are the approximate costs for these items (Again, the links take you to the product on Amazon):

Should You Can If You Have Your Own Garden?

Imagine investing all that time and effort in growing your fresh vegetables and letting them go to waste because it's simply too much for you and your family to consume!

​Instead grow your own food and invest in some canning jars and enjoy your own produce and other home-canned food all year long - plus reduce your food waste! 

3 jars of home canned goods, sitting outside surrounded by fresh vegetables.
Having a garden is such a pleasure and working in it is therapeutic and relaxing.

The solution is to preserve the fresh produce so you will be able to enjoy it for the following year and avoid the heartache of throwing away the beautiful fruit and veggies you worked so hard to grow.

What Are The Benefits Of Canning?

Canning can bring such joy to you and your family. Not only will you be proud of your canned goodies, but it's so convenient to have ready meals at your fingertips. Here are some more benefits of canning:

  • A Stocked Pantry - It gives peace of mind to have groceries ready to use in this time of wavering costs.
  • Convenience - Having a pantry filled with delicious canned goods prevents you from having to make a store run every two days. Shop right in your pantry!
  • Protects From Rising Food Costs - Why buy canned food when canning the same items will be so much cheaper? Purchasing food when they're in abundance generally means reduced costs. Canning and using them will cut your grocery budget.
  • A Sense of Achieving Something - Offering homemade canned food for your family to enjoy at mealtimes gives you a sense of accomplishment after laboring to prepare your own recipes.
  • Confidence in The Ingredients -You’ll find joy in creating your recipes, putting together fresh ingredients, and knowing exactly what is in the food you are eating.
  • Relaxing Pastime - Doing chores in the kitchen can be a form of relaxation and meditation. Chopping, dicing, and blending the ingredients gives hours of introspection and satisfaction.

Are There Disadvantages To Canning?

As with most things, there are a few disadvantages to canning. Although I feel the benefits here outweigh the costs, here are a few disadvantages to consider before you take on this project:

  • Glass jars can break compared to the durable cans you buy at the store.
  • Unlike tins, the seal of a glass jar can crack, causing your canned food to spoil.
  • Canning can be a laborious chore that takes time in the kitchen.
  • Improper practices can lead to contracting food poisoning from spoiled food.
  • Since most harvests are plentiful during summer, this is the best time to do your canning. The heat in your kitchen can increase dramatically, urging you to use the air conditioning more often.
  • Regrettably, canned foods are not quite as tasty as the fresh versions.
  • Unfortunately, there is a loss of nutrients during the process of canning.
  • Investing in startup appliances will make a notable dent in your pocket.
  • Storing the finished product will require sturdy shelving, and the items are quite heavy and bulky to move around.
A few jars of canned relish and other types of home canned food.
Canning is a precise process, it's important to follow the exact instructions

6 Basic Steps To Proper Canning

Canning is a precise process that requires knowledge, attention, and thoroughness to avoid contracting illnesses like botulism. Depending on what you want to can, this process may vary, but the basic outline stays the same:

Step #1: Preparation

The preparation process differs depending on what you are canning, whether it's meat, vegetables, fish, or fruit. But all items require a specific boiling point when cooking the ingredients to ensure they are properly sterilized.

Step #2: Container Sterilization

The importance of this step is critical. Sterilize the jars and lids by submerging them completely in a pot of boiling water and letting them soak in the rolling boil for at least five minutes.

Step #3: Filling, Cleaning, and Sealing

Filling - Unless the recipe instructions differ, remember to fill the jar to at least a quarter-inch from the top; this is called headspace.

Cleaning - After filling the jars, be sure to wipe the top of the jars with a paper towel dipped in the relevant preserving agent used in the recipe. This may include brine, vinegar, or lemon juice.

Sealing - Lastly, you will need to screw on the lid over each seal and check it by pressing down and making sure it doesn't move. That way, you know it's sealed properly.

Step #4: Processing

This step requires you to boil your jars of food in a water bath, a steam canner, or a pressure canner to reach full sterilization. The jars need to be fully submerged and need to be boiled for a minimum of ten minutes.

When this is complete, you will need to remove the jars with a pair of axenic tongs or jar lifters (I like these jar lifters from Amazon) and place them on a sterile surface to cool.

Step #5: Seal check

When the jars have been boiled, you will need to check once again that it's fully sealed by pressing down the lid. This test is of vital importance. The contents of unsealed jars could spoil over time and make you very sick.

Step #6: Storage

The purpose of canning is to safely store food without the need to refrigerate or freeze it. However, there are still certain practices that add a little more shelf life to your products. For best results, avoid direct sunlight, store it in a cool, dry place, and stay away from damp basements or spaces close to heat sources.

Safety Considerations for Canning

Getting into canning food is a fulfilling experience, but be careful of the following:

  1. Canning goods requires working with scalding hot items. Take the necessary precautions not to burn. Handle them with gloves or protective gear. I like these gloves (Amazon link), as they allow a lot of freedom of movement, making it safer to handle your hot items.
  2. Not having the correct equipment presents a chance of not working with precision, but if you research and acquire the right utensils before you take up this hobby, you can avoid spilling, breakage, and unnecessary product loss. (This is one of the advantages of buying a canning set rather than individual items, like this one on Amazon).
  3. To upscale your production enough to sell canned items commercially, you will need to check with your local authorities to get sufficient rights and licenses.
  4. The main risk of canning food items is the possibility of contracting botulism (food poisoning). Here are some botulism risk factors to consider:
  • Equipment isn't sanitized properly
  • Jars are not sealed completely
  • The temperature of the boiler is not high enough
  • The recipe isn't followed to the letter

Botulism is a highly durable bacteria that can survive the sterilization process, contaminate the food, and make someone paralyzingly ill. So it is imperative that the proper canning processes are followed and checked every time.

Is Canned Food As Good As Fresh?

  1. The most evident difference between canned food and fresh food is that they differ in taste. Canned food is not as flavorful as fresh ingredients.
  2. Canned food also loses a percentage of its nutrients through the canning process, and its sustenance value decreases when stored.
  3. To make canned food last longer, we have to add certain preservatives like salt, sugar, and vinegar, making the canned food high in sodium and syrups that aren't ordinarily good for you.

Can You Can Food Without Preservatives?

To avoid food from losing its taste and color, preservatives are added to the canning process. Not only does it keep the food tasty, but it reduces the risk of food-borne diseases. Food starts to spoil when it is exposed to oxygen. Antioxidants are added to the recipes to stop this from happening.

Jars of canned food, with one open and a spoon showing canned tomatoes.
Adding preservatives to your canned food is the process of stabilizing and balancing the taste, consistency, and shelf life.

The most common preservatives you will find in your canning recipes are:

  • salt
  • sugar
  • vinegar
  • ascorbic acid (like vitamin C powder)
  • rosemary extract

How Long Should Canned Food Be Kept?

Typically, unopened canned goods should be able to be kept for up to one to two years if stored in a cool, dry environment. It's a prerequisite that you date and name the items properly to avoid getting confused with old stock, especially if you can quite frequently.

After the expiry time, the food doesn't turn bad. It gradually loses its flavor and nutritional value. It's not the safety that comes into question, but the quality of the food.

After the container is opened and the product comes in contact with oxygen, it starts to deteriorate. Low-acidic pressure canned goods (like carrots, corn, and green beans) should be used up in two to three days and stored in the fridge.

High-acid foods last up to a year in the fridge (like pickles, relishes, and chutneys). Sugar-free jams and jellies made with pectin should last up to four weeks in the fridge. Something like salsa will last up to 18 months.

TIP: To retain the quality of your canned items, you should store your jars in a dry area with a constant temperature of about 50° to 70° F (10° to 20° C).

What Are The Easiest Things To Can?

Even though it all depends on what type of canning method you apply, a few fruits and vegetables stand out on the simple and popular scale:

FRUIT /
VEGETABLE
METHODPRESERVATIVE
TomatoesWater bath cannerLemon juice
CucumbersWater bath cannerVinegar
BeansPressure cannerSalt
CornPressure cannerSalt
StockPressure cannerSalt
FruitWater bath cannerSugar syrup
SquashPressure cannerWith or without salt
Leafy greensPressure cannerWith or without salt
AsparagusPressure cannerSalt
CarrotsPressure cannerSalt or sugar

What Can't Be Canned?

Unfortunately, as with any rule in life, there are exceptions. Whether they are too soft to be pressure canned or if they contain ingredients that will disrupt the heating process, the following foods are not optimal for canning:

  • Cauliflower and broccoli - They come out too mushy and unappetizing.
  • Cabbage and lettuce - They lose most of their taste and consistency. It's best to pickle them instead.
  • Olives, artichokes, and eggplant - They become discolored and unpalatable and are better pickled.
  • Squash - This is too soft to be canned and would be much better frozen.
  • Sweets - Like marshmallows and caramel; they contain plenty of fat which will interfere with the heat distribution process.
  • Milk and other dairy products - Like cheese. They have some of the lowest acidity levels and require extra care to exterminate all botulism spores.
  • Avoid canning grains - Like oats, barley, crackers, bread, dough, and rice. Their interior parts contain very little oil and will struggle to retain heat. Heating the grains to such a high temperature destroys the nutritional value and still won't be hot enough to kill bacteria.
  • Pasta and noodles - They will practically disintegrate when they are put through that much pressure and heat.
  • Cornstarch and flour - They break down acidic products, which negates the sterilization process to kill the germs.
  • Nuts - They contain too much oil. The oil will coat and protect the botulism spores against the heat.
4 jars of cucumbers in canned jars.
Know the best time to can each food for optimum savings

What To Can When?

Here is a short guide on what to can in which season you live in the northern hemisphere. The list consists of typically cheaper items in the specified months because they are in season and readily available:

MONTHVEGETABLESFRUITS
JanuaryCabbages, leeks,
broccoli, cauliflower
Oranges, grapefruit,
tangerines, tangelos,
lemons, papayas
FebruaryBroccoli, cauliflowerOranges, grapefruit,
lemons, papayas
MarchBroccoli, lettucePineapples, mangoes
AprilZucchini, rhubarb,
artichokes, asparagus,
spring peas, broccoli, lettuce
Pineapples, mangoes
MayOkra, zucchini,
rhubarb, artichokes,
asparagus, spring peas,
broccoli, lettuce
Cherries, pineapples,
apricots
JuneCorn, lettuceWatermelon, strawberries,
cantaloupe, cherries,
blueberries, peaches,
apricots
JulyCucumbers, tomatoes,
summer squash, corn,
green beans, lettuce
Watermelon, strawberries,
cantaloupe, blueberries,
peaches, apricots,
kiwi, raspberries, plums
AugustCucumbers, corn,
eggplant, tomatoes,
summer squash,
green beans, lettuce
Watermelon, strawberries,
cantaloupe, blueberries,
peaches, apricots,
kiwi, raspberries, plums
SeptemberEggplants, pumpkins,
tomatoes, spinach, lettuce
Grapes, pomegranates
OctoberPumpkins, winter squash,
broccoli, spinach, lettuce,
sweet potatoes
Cranberries, apples,
pomegranates, grapes
NovemberPumpkins, winter squash,
sweet potatoes, broccoli,
mushrooms, spinach
Cranberries, oranges,
tangerines, pears,
pomegranates
DecemberSweet potatoes, mushrooms,
broccoli, cauliflower
Pears, oranges,
grapefruit, tangerines,
papayas, pomegranates

Proper Canning Practices You Should Know About

The surfaces of fresh produce are coated with microorganisms that attack the bruised and broken skin. They spoil the fruit and vegetables and make them less desirable to can.

Make sure you take note of the following guidelines to circumvent wastage and keep bacteria out:

  1. Carefully select and wash fresh produce.
  2. Peel some of the fresh foods if and when required.
  3. Hot packing many food types, (more on this below). Stick to their recipes
  4. Adding acid preservatives (like lemon juice or vinegar) to some foods.
  5. Only use uncontaminated jars with self-sealing lids.
  6. Correctly process the jars in a water bath or pressure canner for the required period.
  7. Do not try to reseal the containers if they didn't seal. The product should be stored in the fridge and used in the allowable time.

Hot Packed vs. Raw Packed Canning Methods

Different foods prefer different methods of packing into their jars. Meat is an example of packing raw whereas tomatoes can be either raw or hot packed.

The most important part is that whether you pack raw or hot, the liquid added to the product has to be boiling point hot, and so do the jars since the focus of canning is to sterilize and store fresh produce properly.

It is always best to stick to the recipes as much as possible to avoid spoilage of canned food.

  • During raw pack canning, the hot jars are filled with cold or raw food and then topped with boiling syrup, water, or juice. This step is followed by sterilizing the jars in a water bath, an atmospheric steam canner, or a pressure canner.
  • Hot packing is when the food is already fully or partially cooked before filling the hot, clean containers. It is the best method for a firm or crispy food since you will fit more food into the jar.

    This is also the preferable way to ensure that most air is removed from the jars. As with the raw method, you must still process all food jars for at least 10 minutes to ensure they are sealed.

3 Methods Of Canning

Here are the three main methods of home canning food. All three methods are not to cook the food, but basically to heat the food enough so the bacteria will die and the lid will seal:

  1. Water Bath Canning
    This is where you would use a huge stockpot that will fit a few jars. The pot must have a lid, be large enough for the jars to sit on a canning rack (or any other material making sure the jars do not touch the bottom), and be covered with at least two inches of water.
    This method is used for preserving high-acid foods such as fruits, jams, jellies, tomatoes, pickles, and relishes.
  2. Steam Canning (or atmospheric steam canning)
    This involves a heat process including steam, but without the pressure and can also be used for acid foods. This method uses much less water and energy and reaches the desired temperature quicker than the boiling water canner.
  3. Pressure Canning
    This can only be done in an appliance called the pressure canner, which uses high temperatures and high-pressure steam. This method is mostly used for food with a higher pH level.

Which Method Of Canning Should You Use?

The processing method all depends on what kind of food you are canning.

All methods prevent the growth of the botulinum bacteria, but the bacteria tend to grow quicker in certain foods with a low acidity level (with a pH balance higher than 4.6). Examples include:

  • meats
  • seafood
  • poultry
  • most fresh vegetables (except for tomatoes)

The botulinum germ is a very tenacious microorganism and, even at boiling temperatures, can be difficult to eradicate.

TAKE NOTE: The lower the acid level in the food, the longer it needs to be processed in the pressure canner at about 240° to 250°F.

  • High acid foods can be safely sterilized in a water bath because the acid balance in the food is much less hospitable for the botulinum bacteria to survive.
  • If low-acid foods are processed in the boiling-water canner, they will have to be processed for between seven to eleven hours.

Conclusion

If you’re thinking about taking up canning as a hobby, it is probably the best idea you’ve had this year!

Not only will it save you money in the long run, but you'll also have a huge variety of canned goodies ready to bring out for mealtimes.

It will save you from having to visit the grocery store every two days, and you'll even save time on preparing dinner!

Here is my guide about the pros and cons of canning tomatoes!

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