OSU Extension and Bi-Mart team up to offer food preservation information

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CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new partnership between Oregon State University Extension Service and Bi-Mart stores brings a wealth of food preservation and safety information to shoppers.

The Extension-designed posters hang in appropriate aisles – canning, hunting, drying – in the employee-owned chain’s 80 stores in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Brochures are available to take home and a QR code on the posters, when scanned with a smart phone, takes you to the Home Food Safety and Preservation Program website for additional information.

The learning tools come at the beginning of a preservation season that’s expected to be busier than ever as people spend more time growing their own food, a pastime that’s exploded this year. Tips cover every aspect of food preservation: canning, freezing, smoking, pickling, drying, jerky, and jams and jellies.

“Gardening, my goodness, gardening is crazy,” said Don Leber, vice president of advertising and marketing for Bi-Mart. “All these people are thinking ‘What will we do with all this food.’ We’re thinking of a lot of the newbies who don’t know how to get started. And now with OSU’s help, we’ve got the information. It’s a match made in heaven.”

Sales have been going up over the past few years as people turn back to canning, and have increased dramatically already this season.

“Canning and food storage are huge this year,” Leber said. “It’s out of control. All of our food preservation items have sold like crazy over the last four months. People are home gardening and putting up food.”

Preserving food – whether by canning, freezing, drying, pickling or even making jerky – took a downturn as baby boomers grew up and gave up the practice, said Nellie Oehler, a food safety specialist for OSU Extension and one of the founders of the Master Food Preserver program. Now their children have picked it up again and beginners need accurate information, especially considering the amount of misinformation online.

“It’s marvelous that Bi-Mart took this on,” Oehler said “The posters look so nice and they’re all over the Pacific Northwest. “It’s a great way to get Extension information out there. People are looking for ways of sustaining themselves.”

Wilco stores – 15 in Oregon – have signed on to carry brochures and posters, as well.

In 1980, Oehler and others recognized the need to provide information to the many people putting up food. As the program got started and volunteers stepped up for training, the idea of a hotline emerged and one was started about 10 years later.

“We were getting a lot of calls at the local Extension offices,” Oehler said. “The Extension Service has always been known for research-based food preservation information.”

So, the hotline was born in 1990, about 10 years after the Master Food Preserver program started. At first, calls were only taken in the 541-area code, but as demand grew, they switched to an 800 number in order to service all of Oregon. The current number is 800-354-7319.

“Old methods were popping up that weren’t safe,” said Oehler, who grew up on a farm and can still walk into the cellar and grab a jar of dozens of foods. “Our No. 1 goal was and is to prevent food-borne illnesses.”

By the time 1999 rolled around and Y2K approached, calls escalated. More than 10,000 calls came in that year, according to Oehler. This year could give that figure a run for its money. The hotline, posters, brochures and online resources are there to help.

“I think if you use our publications and use the canning app, which is really good, you’re going to find canning is not that intimidating. It’s actually kind of fun and you have something to show for your work.”

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