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Food For Thought

Summer is here, and a trip to the local farmer’s market shows a bounty – everything from peaches to green beans. But fresh produce doesn’t last very long, and growing public interest in all things food-related has led to a boom in home food preservation, such as canning. But home canning is one hobby that can actually kill you if not done properly. Luckily, NC State’s food safety experts are out there helping people do it the right way.

“Interest in home food preservation is definitely increasing,” says Dr. Ben Chapman, an assistant professor of family and consumer sciences and extension food safety specialist at NC State. “North Carolina Cooperative Extension, which is run by NC State and North Carolina A&T in partnership with the counties, is the primary source for education and training in this area. We’ve fielded well over 5,000 inquiries in the past couple of years, and we’re always being asked to hold more workshops on canning and related preservation techniques.”

Part of the interest in food preservation stems from pop culture’s increasing focus on all things food-related, as evidenced by the rise in everything from celebrity chefs to cooking-oriented reality television. Another factor is economics. People often view canning as a cost-effective way to stock the pantry – particularly if they’re growing their own fruits and vegetables.

However, Chapman notes that “it’s important that people learn to preserve foods properly. If done wrong, it can kill you. It is rare, but almost all of the cases of food-related botulism in the United States stem from improper home food preservation.”

To help ensure that people are preserving food properly, NC State works with extension agents in all 100 counties to assist people in making good decisions regarding food preservation equipment and recipes, and to conduct workshops and demonstrations on proper technique.

One key to safe canning, according to Chapman, is to use tested recipes – don’t wing it. “Unless it’s a recipe that has been scientifically tested and shown to be safe, you are putting your health at risk,” Chapman says.

If you’re not sure whether you’re doing it right, or don’t know where to start, check out NC State’s home food preservation site. You should also take advantage of your local extension office – every county has one. Extension agents have the knowledge and resources to help you make good decisions, so that your preserved foods are both safe and delicious. And if you have a question they can’t answer, they can always contact Ben Chapman.