Friday, July 29, 2011


With the advent of plastics, use of sanitary cans took a beating and as a technology for food preservation canning has been relegated to the background. One of the major reasons is the emergence of refrigeration at an affordable cost that can extend the life of many foods and the freezing technology can protect foods for months together with minimum hassle. Still from the food safety angle, canning still remains the safest technology if practiced scientifically. If at all it has to be criticized, the technology can be faulted for literally destroying the texture and flavor of products inside because of the high temperatures deployed for long times, especially in foods valued for their textural quality. The amenability of canning to low scale operation makes it suitable for home scale preservation and probably it is going to come back in this sector with a bang, if trends in some countries are any indication. With advances in material technology, better cans and bottles are available to day and kitchen gadgets that adore many households, canning can be a very simple operation, manageable at the house wife level.

"Almost a lost art, canning has come back in style as more people get into vegetable gardening. The interest in farmers markets and pick-your-own farms also fuels this trend as consumers want to preserve their own food. "Starting two years ago, we saw many more people coming to our classes," said Smith, a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver, who teaches canning and other preservation techniques. "We saw attendance double, even triple or more. When we used to get 10 people, now we get 30 or 40 in a class." "The food safety issue and economics; that's driving the interest in canning," she said. "People want to know how to do it themselves." Smith experiments with different ways to keep her crop. Last summer, she tried pressure canning. She also made tomato leather. She's always perfecting her techniques. "I grew up watching my mom do it," Smith said. "I took some food classes in college and bought the 1970s version of the USDA guide. I did a little canning on my own." A dozen years ago, Smith became a Master Food Preserver, passing the rigorous certification needed to earn that title. Since her days as mother's helper, Smith discovered a lot has changed in the approach to processing tomatoes, she said. "Acidity; there's a lot more emphasis on how important that is to food safety," she explained. "Food needs to be processed a lot longer, too. That's why it's important to use up-to-date, reliable recipes."
The Master Food Preservers handle all sorts of fruit and vegetables, but processing tomatoes is always the No. 1 request. "Tomatoes are the biggest canned item," Smith said. "People have an abundance of tomatoes and they wonder: What do I do now?" As an alternative to canning, freezing works well, too, with tomatoes and tomato-based products such as pasta sauce. But, as Smith added, "You only have so much freezer space."

In a country like India tomato "gluts" are very common forcing the growers not even to harvest them because of unremunerative market price. For that matter vegetables and fruits can be easily preserved by house wives when ever there is a price crash and canned product also saves energy as it does not need severe cooking as being done in Indian kitchens. The restaurant sector which face serious problem of scarcity of vegetables during some or the other time in an year can resort to canning to build up reserves for use throughout the year. Of course, if government can modify its fiscal policies to remove taxes on cans and heat proof glass bottles, canning process can be a boon to the consumer as well as to the catering sector. Equipment manufacturers have to come up with innovative designs suitable for home scale sector and house wives will need some minimum training to avoid mishaps in the form of bottulism caused by Clostridium bottulinum bacteria. Similarly food scientists need to bring about minor modifications in the canning process, especially when low acid foods are canned to ensure absolute safety of finished products.

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