OSU hotline answers questions about food safety, preservation

July 17, 2009

Canned food photo by Lynn Ketchum

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Want to know how to can salsa? Stumped about what kind of vinegar to use for pickling your cucumbers? Puzzled over hot packs and raw packs?

The Oregon State University Extension Service can help. Its statewide toll-free food safety and preservation hotline (1-800-354-7319) that operates each summer is now open. Trained volunteers and Extension staff will answer calls Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through mid-October. The volunteers have completed intensive training in food preservation and safety and have passed a certification exam.

Operators received more than 4,470 calls last summer, and half of them involved questions about canning, said Carolyn Raab, a food and nutrition specialist with OSU Extension. She said she expects more calls this year as the number of people growing and preserving their own food increases. Raab said part of the reason for this is that consumers are tightening their budgets during the economic downturn, trying to control the ingredients in their food, and aiming to eat food grown close to home. This is what county Extension faculty around the state are hearing from the public, she said.

Home canning is a science that must be done correctly. If it isn't, a life-threatening foodborne illness called botulism could result. Foods that have lower acidity (meat, seafood, poultry and nonpickled vegetables) should be processed in a large pressure canner to kill the harmful bacteria. Foods higher in acid (fruits, pickled vegetables and tomatoes) may be safely processed in a boiling-water canner. The length of time and pounds of pressure needed to process low-acid foods is influenced by the type of food, the way it's prepared, the size of the jar and the altitude.

Instructions for preserving various foods can be found online in food preservation publications from the OSU Extension Service. A printed catalog of these and other OSU Extension publications is available by calling 1-800-561-6719.

Author: Tiffany Woods
Source: Carolyn Raab