Pesticides and Home Canning

Reader Contribution by Mary Moss-Sprague
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Conventionally Grown Food Can Be Canned, Too

This is my introductory blog entry here and I’m so pleased to have this opportunity to communicate with and possibly assist some of Mother’s readers.

Several years ago, I became certified by university-run extension service programs both as a master gardener and a master food preserver. That led to my developing the above-ground gardening methods explained in my new book, Stand Up and Garden. It includes techniques for growing large amounts of vegetables and herbs in a limited space, with an eye to preserving that food at harvest.

Much of my time is spent helping other people to grow as well as preserve their food; it’s my passion. That includes clearing up myths and misconceptions, as well. A recent post here about canning produce caught my attention. It stated that produce not grown organically cannot be safely canned.

The writer’s theory was, apparently, that pesticides prevent produce from safely reaching the state at which it is safely preserved. Right now, that’s not an established fact we can use to push for eliminating the use of non-organic pesticides, however desirable that may be. So, theory needs to be separated from fact here.

Consumers cannot afford to toss aside good fruits and vegetables that could otherwise be preserved. Many families would go hungry if only strictly organically grown produce was safe to can. By looking back at how long people have canned their crops, history dispels this particular theory. For many generations, farmers who used commercial, non-organic pesticides have preserved crops of their own at home and also sold them to stores and consumers. City-dwellers and other non-gardening folks have routinely purchased those crops for canning, both directly from the farms and from markets. That canned food was and is still deemed as safe to eat as organically grown produce.

So, successful home canning has never been limited by whether the product was grown in a totally organic, pesticide-free environment. If food can be safely eaten fresh after thorough washing, it can safely be canned. None of the reputable canning instruction books, such as the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, or state extension canning information websites stipulate that only organically grown produce may be safely canned. 

As long as any produce to be preserved is thoroughly washed — and in some cases, scrubbed — the product can be safely canned. Commercial or homemade vegetable and fruit surfactant washes can even be used to assure removal of chemicals, bacteria and other contaminants. Many supermarkets tend to coat cucumbers, apples and other items with wax, which is admittedly difficult to remove. In that case, I’d definitely opt for purchasing such food from direct farm stand or community farmer’s markets and skip the wax coating altogether.

To be clear, I don’t prefer that our food be grown with non-organic pesticides — no way! My garden always has been, and always will be, authentically organic. Currently, many farms and markets certify their produce as genuinely organic; others do not.

Food preservation itself is both an art and a science we need to keep alive. Next time, I’m going to discuss why and how we must acidify tomatoes when canning them. I’ll also talk about why “canning without distraction” is vital to our food safety.

As an old farmer once told me, “We eat all we can … and what we can’t, we can.” (groan!)

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