How to Home Can: Raw-Packing vs. Hot-Packing

Not all food packing methods are created equal. The USDA explains why when it comes to canning, most foods like it hot.

| July 12, 2011

  • Raw_Hot_Packing
    To raw pack (pictured left), add very hot canning liquid or water to cover raw food, leaving adequate head space. For hot packing (pictured right), boil raw foods  3 to 5 minutes in a saucepan or blancher, then pour into jars.
  • Canned Foods
    When canning at home, food can be packed in jars using raw-packing or hot-packing. Hot-packing preserves foods' color and shape better, while raw-packing usually is quicker and easier. 
    Photo By Fotolia/Tuja66

  • Raw_Hot_Packing
  • Canned Foods

So you have your food, your jars and you’re ready to can. But wait: There are two different canning methods — raw-packing and hot-packing. What are the differences between the two? And how do you know which method is right for you, and, more importantly, your food? The United States Department of Agriculture's Complete Guide to Home Canning, will show you the hot and raw pack process for almost everything in your garden. Use this and our other canning resources to stock up after your harvest.

Raw-packing is the practice of filling jars tightly with freshly prepared, but unheated food. Such foods, especially fruit, will float in the jars. The entrapped air in and around the food may cause discoloration within 2 to 3 months of storage. Raw-packing is more suitable for vegetables processed in a pressure canner.

Hot-packing is the practice of heating freshly prepared food to boiling, simmering it 2 to 5 minutes, and promptly filling jars loosely with the boiled food. Whether food has been hot-packed or raw-packed, the juice, syrup, or water to be added to the foods should also be heated to boiling before adding it to the jars. This practice helps to remove air from food tissues, shrinks food, helps keep the food from floating in the jars, increases vacuum in sealed jars, and improves shelf life. Preshrinking food permits filling more food into each jar.

Click on the Image Gallery for how-to illustrations of both raw-packing and hot-packing.

Advantages of Hot-Packing     

Hot-packing is the best way to remove air and is the preferred pack style for foods processed in a boiling-water canner. At first, the color of hot-packed foods may appear no better than that of raw-packed foods, but within a short storage period, both color and flavor of hot-packed foods will be superior.

Many fresh foods contain from 10 percent to more than 30 percent air. How long canned food retains high quality depends on how much air is removed from food before jars are sealed.

Ensuring High-Quality Canned Foods

Begin with good-quality fresh foods suitable for canning. Quality varies among varieties of fruits and vegetables. Many county Extension offices can recommend varieties best suited for canning. Examine food carefully for freshness and wholesomeness. Discard diseased and moldy food. Trim small diseased lesions or spots from food.

Can fruits and vegetables picked from your garden or purchased from nearby producers when the products are at their peak of quality-within 6 to 12 hours after harvest for most vegeta­bles. For best quality, apricots, nectarines, peaches, pears, and plums should be ripened 1 or more days between harvest and canning. If you must delay the canning of other fresh produce, keep it in a shady, cool place.

Fresh home-slaughtered red meats and poultry should be chilled and canned without delay. Do not can meat from sickly or diseased animals. Ice fish and seafoods after harvest, eviscer­ate immediately, and can them within 2 days.

Maintaining Color and Flavor in Canned Food

To maintain good natural color and flavor in stored canned food, you must:

  • Remove oxygen from food tissues and jars,
  • Quickly destroy the food enzymes,
  • Obtain high jar vacuums and airtight jar seals.

Follow these guidelines to ensure that your canned foods retain optimum colors and flavors during processing and storage:

  • Use only high-quality foods which are at the proper maturity and are free of diseases and bruises.
  • Use the hot-pack method, especially with acid foods to be processed in boiling water.
  • Don’t unnecessarily expose prepared foods to air. Can them as soon as possible.
  • While preparing a canner load of jars, keep peeled, halved, quartered, sliced, or diced apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches, and pears in a solution of 3 grams (3,000 milligrams) ascorbic acid to 1 gallon of cold water. This procedure is also useful in maintaining the natural color of mushrooms and potatoes, and for preventing stem-end discoloration in cherries and grapes. You can get ascorbic acid in several forms:

        Pure powdered form — seasonally available among canners’ supplies in supermarkets. One level teaspoon of pure powder weighs about 3 grams. Use 1   teaspoon per gallon of water as a treatment solution.

        Vitamin C tablets — economical and available year-round in many stores. Buy 500-milligram tablets; crush and dissolve six tablets per gallon of water as a treatment solution.

        Commercially prepared mixes of ascorbic and citric acid — seasonally available among can­ners’ supplies in supermarkets. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for store-bought solutions.

  •  Fill hot foods into jars and adjust headspace as specified in recipes.
  • Tighten screw bands securely, but if you are especially strong, not as tightly as       
  • possible.
  • Process and cool jars.
  • Store the jars in a relatively cool, dark place, preferably between 50 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Can no more food than you will use within a year.

Have a smartphone or tablet? Download the free MOTHER EARTH NEWS library app for access to our How to Can resource (also free!). Find it in the iTunes App Store and Google Play. It’s the power of canning know-how in the palm of your hands!

8/12/2014 4:51:28 AM

How do I buy large quanity of canned food and place in small jars?

9/19/2013 7:04:15 PM

Question: I canned 15 quarts of apples using the hot-pack method. The recipe called for boiling in the water canner for 20 minutes. Through a timing mix-up, they were only boiled for 10 minutes. Everything else was done correctly and meticulously. Do I have to throw out all those apples?



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