OSU Extension food safety/preservation hotline expects more than 3,000 calls

Master Food Preserver Michele Pryse teaches food preservation techniques in the
Master Food Preserver Michele Pryse teaches food preservation techniques in the Medford, Oregon area. Photo by: Lynn Ketchum
Last Updated: 
August 19, 2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As canning season heats up in Oregon, 45 volunteers trained as Oregon State University Extension Master Food Preservers have begun to answer hotline questions about food safety and preservation.

The food safety/preservation hotline is open to answer questions from July 18 to Oct. 13 at 1-800-354-7319, Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Carolyn Raab, OSU food and nutrition specialist, said she expects the hotline to receive 3,000 to 3,500 calls by the end of hotline operation in October.

Although many topics are raised, canning questions are the most frequent (35 percent of calls in 2010). Canning questions vary by season, though questions about canning green beans and fish are common. When tomatoes ripen, people call about canning salsa. Pickling questions usually come in August and September.

Hotline volunteers respond to questions about canning, freezing, drying, jams/jellies, pickling, food safety and food storage. Some questions are unusual. This year someone wanted to know about the safety of cherries that have worms and blueberries that had been pecked by birds. The answer? Make the "damaged" fruits into juice for jelly, which is heated to kill bacteria.

All volunteers have participated in extensive training, and some have staffed the hotline for several years. New volunteers are paired with the experienced.

What is most important to keep food preservation safe? Food must be canned correctly.

“Margy Woodburn, a retired OSU food microbiology expert, has always said the most important message is to avoid botulism by using a pressure canner for low-acid foods: vegetables, meat, fish and poultry," Raab said. Botulism is a sometimes-fatal foodborne illness, caused by eating inadequately processed canned foods.

"Canning is a science rather than an art," Raab said, "Canning instructions must be followed exactly. If you like to be creative, freeze or dry instead."  

"In 2010 a large number of callers had never canned before or were returning to canning after many years," Raab said. "There were also increased numbers of callers using unsafe canning methods, such as using a boiling water canner for low-acid foods. A pressure canner must be used to can vegetables, meats, fish and poultry."

Call the OSU Extension Service Food Safety/Preservation Hotline from July 18 to October 13 at 1-800-354-7319, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The hotline is staffed by OSU Extension Master Food Preserver volunteers and OSU Extension staff.

More food safety information is available online: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/fch/food-preservation

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Carolyn Raab