Published on 11/20/14

Make sure homemade gifts are safe this holiday season

By Maggie Dudacek

Many people are turning toward home canning as a way to show their loved ones how much they care during the holidays. While gifts from one’s own kitchen can mean a lot, it’s essential that the canner use the proper techniques so that everyone has a safe and healthy holiday season.

“A common mistake that people make is trusting their friends (or) past family experiences more than science-based recommendations for home canning,” said Elizabeth Andress, Extension food safety specialist with the University of Georgia and director of the National Center for Home Food Preservation. “People also want to be creative and guess at the correct processing for their own recipes, while not understanding all the factors that contribute to the correct processing time and temperature.”

By following the instructions and taking the right precautions, canners can avoid giving their friends and family members spoiled food or food poisoning for the holidays. Under-processing of canned goods, like meats and vegetables, may lead to the bacteria being inside of the food without the food showing signs of spoilage.

It is important to use up-to-date canning instructions from dependable experts, like the National Center for Home Food Preservation or UGA Extension. Canning knowledge and equipment have changed since canning foods at home began generations ago and hand-me-down recipes could be potentially dangerous.

“Giving home-preserved gifts adds a personal touch, but you do take on the added responsibility of vouching for the safety of the foods you give,” Andress said. “As tempting as it may be to impress your recipients with a brand new, never-before-tasted canned creation, the first measure of safety is to use tested recommendations from reliable sources.”

Instead of experimenting with recipes, package time-tested, home-preserved gifts in creative ways. Be sure to use the correct jars. Some jars are intended for non-canning purposes, like crafts, and are not designed to withstand the heat or temperature changes of the canning process.

When labeling jars, it is essential to let gift recipients know exactly what they are getting. Remember to include the date of creation of the goodies as well as a "use by" date. For most canned foods, a year offers the best quality for the food. If the jar allows it, try to include the ingredients of what is inside the jar; this is especially helpful for those with food allergies. Lastly, include instructions so recipients know how to properly store the home-canned foods.

If you have a friend or family member who likes to preserve food at home, there are several great gifts that will make their canning experience easier and more enjoyable.

“A new apron and a set of kitchen towels make great gifts. These may seem ordinary to some people, but will be appreciated by a person who enjoys food preparation,” Andress said. “Taking time this holiday season to select the perfect gift for the home food preserver will provide additional joy once food preservation season rolls around again.”

For more information about canning, UGA’s “So Easy to Preserve” book offers many options for your home-canned jams, butters and other tasty treats. The book can be ordered at

Maggie Dudacek is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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