Canning Food for the Winter is Plastic-Free — Except for the Jar Lids!
Want to avoid zip lock bags in the freezer this winter? One way is to dry summer produce, as Jean Nicks suggested a couple of weeks ago, instead of freezing it. Another method is to can produce in glass jars. In this post, Fake Plastic Fish reader Brekke Bounds explains what she’s learned about plastic in canning jar lids and shares her spiced applesauce recipe, complete with pictures.
Living in Chicago, I am very lucky to be surrounded by great local food options. There is a farmers market just 10 minutes from my house as well as a co-op committed to local and organic foods. But, living in the Midwest means that there are several months out of the year there is very little in the way of fresh produce available locally. Because of this I’ve always been interested in preserving food. My grandmother did a lot of canning. I specifically remember her canned peaches and her canned green beans. Both delicious. So, I decided that this was the year that I should break out the canning!
Canning is a great way to make sure that you have healthy, local food year round. And with the plastic and BPA liners that come with commercially canned or processed food, making my own canned produce seemed like a good alternative
BPA in Jar Lids
Now canning is not a perfect plastic free solution. Often the seals that are sold for canning have a plastic coating and often the plastic seals include BPA. The seals that I am using this year are Ball brand seals. They were a gift and they do contain a BPA coating.
There are some non-BPA coating options, but none that are entirely plastic free. One of the most promising products I found in my search was the Tattler plastic lid. These are reusable, BPA free seals that can be used for water bath and pressure canning as well as vacuum sealing. Now while these are made with plastic, at least the plastic is made in the USA and durable.
The difference between canning at home and buying canned produce from the store is that when canning at home you control your plastic exposure. The food mostly only touches the glass jar. In fact, after processing, as long as the food is stored upright it does not touch the plastic seal at all.
My Canning Adventure
So far this year I have done tomatoes and applesauce, both high acid foods that can be processed in a hot water bath canner. What follows is my process for canning spiced applesauce.
I had about 4.5 lbs. of apples, and they yielded four pint-jars of sauce. I also bought and used a “canning pot” with a specialized rack. It is perfectly possible to can without a pot and rack like mine, but having this equipment makes it much easier and since that is the only way I have canned I am giving the directions using that equipment.
Prepping the Apples
Wash, peel and core the apples. I used a potato peeler and one of those apple slicers that divides the apples into 6 wedges.
From there, put the apples in a pot with just enough water to cover. Boil gently until the apples are soft. Remove the apples from the water and then run them through a food processor or food mill. I find food processors to be a pain much of the time, so I processed my applesauce with a food mill. Food mills have no separate parts to clean and are plastic free! Also, while you can’t see it in my picture, this mill has two hooks that help position it over the pot, making it very convenient.
Prepping the equipment
For complete safety, all the jars and seals that you use for canning should be sterilized. To do this I run my glass jars through the dishwasher alone and boil my seals in a small pot before use. I leave the jars in the dishwasher and remove them one by one for filling. Same with the seals. If you do not have a dishwasher you can sterilize both the jars and the lids in hot water. Boil the Jars for 10 minutes at about 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The lids should be simmered for 10 minutes at about 180 degrees. Over heating the lids may cause the seal to fail.
At this point it is a good idea to start simmering the water in your canning pot. Set the rack on the lip of the canner and simmer the water below the rack, keeping a temperature of about 180 degrees.
Canning the applesauce
Bring the processed apples to a low boil in a large pot, stirring to keep from sticking. At this point in the process I added cinnamon and allspice to taste.
Some might also be interested in adding sugar at this point. Typically º cup of sugar per pound of apple is recommended. If you are unsure I say leave the sugar out, apples are already pretty sweet.
While the sauce is boiling, use a clean ladle to fill each glass jar leaving 1/2 inch of headspace (this means stop filling 1/2 inch from the top of the jar). The jars should be taken directly from the dishwasher or hot water, and should still be hot during this step.
After filling, wipe the threads around the lid with a clean cloth, make sure there are no air bubbles, place the seal on the jar and tighten the ring evenly and firmly just until resistance is met. Do not over tighten the rings. Place each jar unto the rack.
Once you have filled all of your jars and placed them on the rack, lower the rack into the simmering water and add boiling water until the jars are covered by 1 to 2 inches of water. Cover and process (boil) for 20 minutes.
After the 20 minutes is up remove the jars from the water and let set overnight. After 18 hours check the seals to be certain that the seal worked. Do this by unscrewing the metal ring and gently lifting up on the seal with your fingers. If the seal remains on then the seal is good.
If the seal is not good you can immediately reprocess the jar for another 20 minutes in boiling water, but only up to 24 hours after the original canning.
Home canned food is good for 6 months to a year from the date of canning. They will last longest if kept in a cool, dark spot. If exposed to heat or partial light the longest you can expect that food to be good is 6 months.
I got my info for this post and all my canning needs for this fall from the Ball Blue Book: Guide to preserving.
Brekke Bounds writes about green living and education topics at Bright Hub and is planning a relaunch of her own blog, A Deeper Green, in the next month or so. You can follow her on Twitter at @adeepergreen.
I canned pickles successfully and jams, but had a bad time with applesauce. When applesauce goes bad in the jar, you know when you open the jar, usually. However, I did not do the bath exactly as Beth examples.
But, apple slices can freeze and dry well, too. So we freeze our apples and then prepare the apple sauce the week we want it. Have never re-hydrated apple slices to make sauce, but this might work well, too.
Thanks for the canning example Beth, I am not a quitter, so I shall try again using you method as well.
Beth Terry I am concerned with getting a good seal even though I have new gaskets, I’m not sure that the applesauce will not spoil. I keep reading that it is dangerous to can this way.
What specifically worries you about old glass?
Are glass jars with rubber gaskets and metal flip over closer safe. the jars are old and the rubber gaskets are new. the tops are old glass. should I worry?
Thank you for this. I was worried about the lids on my mason jars and whatever chemical / plastic is used. Thank you for pointing to the Tattler lids. Think I’ll pick some up on the way home. But still frustrated it’s plastic .. but BPA free I guess.
What is your opinion on Weck jars? Rubber is just another chemical synthetic, like plastic, right? I can’t find anything on if the rubber is any better than a BPA-free Tatter jar, which is much less expensive.
@bibliophile Real rubber actually comes from a tree so it’s an organic material. I checked out the Weck Jars website but couldn’t find any detailed information regarding the exact type of materials used for the lids. Some products are made from what looks like rubber but are actually made from plastic. Here’s another article that might be helpful. https://myplasticfreelife.com/2007/10/glass-jars-lids-final-word-i-hope/
Samantha, you could also get a Berkley water filter. It’s portable, wonderful, and doesn’t require electricity or installation. Scroll down a little on this site to read about this awesome creature!
Just don’t drink distilled water unless you want the minerals sucked right out of your body.
Samatha, I would buy a water filtration system. I have one now. It is an under the sink model with carbon, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet light (the UV light is for cysts and virus and bacteria and I have it because I have a well which we don’t treat, though it tests clean). It puts the water up into a separate faucet and requires electricity to work (for the UV lamp). Carbon filters do not require electricity and I think RO doesn’t either but I am not sure. There are also systems that do not require separate faucets.
Like Adria mentions, you do need to know why your water is not safe to drink. I would not assume that the filter you choose will do the trick. And I would not rely solely on a UV lamp for large amounts of organisms. You’ll need to research it. Your local water agency may be able to tell you what kinds and levels of filters and other treatments you need.
When you buy water, what have they used to purify it? Based on your wording, I’m assuming they start with the same water you use. Then they will run it through filters, treat it, or distill it. If you know what they do, you may simply be able to duplicate it. If not, you at least need to know what needs to change about your water so you can pick the appropriate treatments (and not pay for ones you don’t need).
I am not familiar with brands available in Mexico but there are many good ones in the US. I use TGI and am very happy with them (and have no relationship with them other than as a customer). There are others, and other brands may have features that you need.
A really good filter can run $200-400US, plus installation, but you will not have to buy bottled water anymore. In the US, bottled water can be 50 cents to $1 per gallon, so you recoup your costs pretty quickly. You will need to change filters every 1-2 years so add in another $100/year on average (some years will be less, some more, depending on what needs changing). Depending on what’s in your water, you may be fine with a far less expensive model than I have.
Samantha, what’s wrong with the water, exactly? If it’s organisms, you just need to boil it for long enough. If it’s pollutants…you’re out of luck, I think.
What would you do for drinking water if you lived in a place without clean tap water? I live in Mexico and we have to buy purified water in big plastic jugs. Haven’t found any other solution, and wondering what you would do in this case. Thanks!
The formaldehyde is only released at very high temperatures above what you’d be producing in canning. They explain the details on the Tattler site.
I want to mention real quick about the plastic Tattler lids — instead of getting BPA in your system from the Ball/Kerr canning lids, you are getting POM (a form of formaldehyde) from the Tattler lids. Heating brings that formaldehyde right out of the lid. One chemical is no better than the other, IMO. If I could afford Weck jars and lids, that is what I’d get!
Don’t get any false security from those Tattlers. Only advantage is their reusability.
1) I reiterate – DON’T use wax to seal. It’s paraffin, a petroleum product, and doesn’t seal safely anyway.
2) I don’t cook my applesauce at all & don’t peel. I cut up and core the apples, puree them in my Vita mixer, bottle & process. That’s it!
I tried the Tattler lids and love them. I’m using them for all my canning now. The company also guarantees them forever. You can read my review here: https://www.axs.com/
And yes, I used to think the food didn’t come in much contact with the lids when I canned at home, but it does big time during processing! It’s boiling up up against the plastic then. Blech!
Lindsey: That only works for the coated metal Ball/Kerr lids. If you’re using Tattler lids, they don’t go up or down and they don’t make that famous pinging noise either. So it’s really important to remove the metal bands when the jars are cool. I had one Tattler lid failure (I mis-seated the rubber ring) and it was dead obvious because when the metal ring came off, the lid came with it. All my other Tattler lids just stay. I can even toss the jars into a bag and carry them upsidedown and sideways. Because I discovered my failure less than 24 hours after canning, I just stuck it in the freezer (minus a lid…I added a screw-on lid after it was solid).
I always check to see if the seal is good by pressing down on the middle of the lid. If it’s flat, you’re good, but if it pushes down then it’s not sealed and you get to eat that jar first.
People “:in the old days” did sometimes get food poisoning from home-canned food – you can’t taste all the ways food can go bad, and the ways you can see/smell tend to be nonfatal (either mold or yeast growth) where listeria and other killers are tasteless.
thanks for your answer!
I don’t know though, all of the people of that generation (and the following one in Germany) canned with those jars, and I’ve never heard that they had health problems – the food in a jar got tested, and if it wasn’t good anymore then thrown out.
Now everybody is watching the chemicals leaching out of plastic – I wonder which ‘threat’ is the worse one, the plastic lining or the odd chance that the food inside a jar has spoiled because the seal wasn’t good?
But as I said, I don’t can, so don’t have any experience.
The miniscule risk of health problems in the distant future from BPA or the 10-30% death rate from botulinism.
Yep, sure is a hard choice to make.
what about glass lids. Does no one make those anymore? the ones with the rubber band like the tattlers?
Sonja, those jars are a fairly old style of canning jar, and are not considered safe anymore. Mostly you can’t tell if the jar has sealed properly or not, and it is hard to know when you need to replace those seals.
I don’t can, but my grandmother used to can a lot (she lived through WW II), and thus I was surprised to read that plastic lining etc is something to consider when canning.
Ilyanna, good catch! The lids should be simmered at 180 degrees for 10 minutes not boiled at 212. I will make sure to e-mail Beth to correct the post.
Lovely applesauce. I’ve been making preserves for years, and find it’s the most requested holiday gift I could give. One note, though — you state that folks should “sterilize both the jars and the lids in boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes keeping a temperature of about 212 degrees Fahrenheit.” Ball specifically states that the lids should NOT be boiled, since that can cause the sealing agent to fail. Instead, pour boiling water over them, and keep them hot until needed.
Best of luck!
You know I use my jarlids over and over – not for canned goods but to store dehydrated foods, bulk goods like rice and oatmeal and even freeze using them. Those BPA free lids sure seem like an attractive option as them I can even re use them for canning. Thanks so much for this post!
E-mailed Lehman’s and got a response right away, the metal seals do have BPA or at least are not for sure BPA free. Here’s the convo:
“Hello, I was just wondering if you could give me any information on the BPA content of your bulk canning seals? There is no indication on the website so I am assuming they do contain BPA but I just wanted to check. Thanks so much. Sincerely, Brekke Bounds”
Their response was:
“Your are correct. The BPA free lids are our plastic canning lids.
Thank you for asking Lehman’s and have a great day!”
The link it to their all plastic seals, which I believe are the Tattler lids.
Hope that clears everything up!
Cyndi, thanks for your great comments! I’m so glad you guys enjoyed the post. In my research I found no evidence to support that the Lehman’s seals were BPA free although several people out there do seem to think they are. Maybe I will send them an e-mail asking.
Also a great point about the lids I used being one time use only. Sadly they will not correctly seal again.
Angie: Could you please provide a reference for this statement? “The bulk canning lids from Lehmans have no BPA or plastic in them (except for any plasticisers the seals). I’ve found it to be a much better option than the Tattler lids.”
The webpage for the bulk canning lids at Lehman’s doesn’t say anything about BPA. It just says they aren’t Ball, though they’re probably the same company since Jarden Home Brands owns Ball and Kerr. They also sell Tattler lids but won’t say so. You can tell from the picture and description who makes them.
I’ve read several articles from people who have researched this issue and every one of them says that Tattler lids are the only ones free of BPA that also fit standard canning (mason) jars. (Weck makes BPA-free lids but they only fit Weck jars.)
Sara: That’s how I make applesauce too, except I use a food processor. I like mine a bit chunky and find it easier to keep things consistant that way.
Jessica: The contact with the lid comes during processing, which also involves heat (makes the BPA leach faster). You’re right there will be little to no leaching during storage (as long as the jars are right side up and not totally full). But during the canning process everything expands and moves and the transfer can be pretty significant.
I’m not thrilled with any plastic touching my food when it’s heated, but Tattler seems to be the best of the choices. Or the least toxic anyway.
Tattler lids are awesome, I just started using them this past month. Canning is such a fun activity, I check out tons of cookbooks on preserving from the library and always think how awesome it would be if I had a huge amount of fruit I could can to enjoy all winter long. :)
One good thing to check if you are trying to get into canning, instead of buying all the equipment and finding out it isn’t for you, is to look and see if there is a Preserving Traditions group in your area. I’ve gone to two canning workshops with group in my town and it a good resource to learn how to do it correctly.
I use the metal lids even though they are lined with BPA. I’ve just rationalized it with that the food inside the jar never has too much direct contact with the underside of the lid since you don’t fill the jars all the way. I also reuse my lids for non-canning purposes later (storing dry goods in canning jars, etc) when it won’t matter about the vacuum seal.
My mother-in-law told me about a way she made apple sauce. I tried it this year and really like it best. I cut out the core and any bad spots but left the peel on. Added water and cooked till the apples were soft. While they are still hot put them, peel and all into my blender, blend well and pour into the jars. Nice and simple with no food mill mess! The peels give more nutrients and being all blended up you don’t even notice them!
I’ve been canning with the Tattler lids. Yes solid plastic instead of metal with a coating, but no BPA. The Ball/regular lids can only be used for canning once (you can use them for storage indefinitely) but the Tattler lids can be used for canning for as long as 10 years. And if the rubber ring isn’t good for some reason, you can replace it separately.
You can use those same glass mason jars in the freezer (if a quart or bigger, underfill and freeze with the lid off to reduce breakage; put the lid on after it’s solid) or for dry or fridge storage. There are 2 quart mason jars too (not for canning). I use twist-on reusable plastic lids for these purposes since they are much easier than the canning lids.
Glass mason jars also make great extra blender jars (some blenders fit the widemouth, some fit the regular) or sprouting jars (there’s a metal screen you use with a metal canning ring).
The bulk canning lids from Lehmans have no BPA or plastic in them (except for any plasticisers the seals). I’ve found it to be a much better option than the Tattler lids.
Also, DO NOT make jam with wax seals. All canning should be done using current safety standards which means 2-part lid sealing.
I once received a jar of jam that was sealed with wax (no lid). I don’t know what was in the wax, but might that be a potentially plastic-free option? I suppose there are drawbacks (probably can’t stack), and maybe it is more of a challenge to do safely? Just thought I’d throw that out there.
Awesome Brekke, that canner looks exactly like the canner we we use–my mom got it at a garage sale for $5. I’m laughing though, because i didnt know you could put the holder on the pot like that. we’ve just been filling it on the counter and then transfering. Last weekend we canned 27 pints of apple sauce–1 jar broke, the first one so far in the 3 years of canning. I hope my kids continue to like apple sauce. :)
we’ve also been drying apples but they are always eaten within an hour of drying so i’m not sure that will be a good preserving method for our family.
I switched to Tattler lids this year for all the jars we’re keeping and have been fairly happy with them. They don’t seal as reliably as disposable lids but if they keep the plastic out of my tomatoes then I’m happy.
One thought–if you are putting your apples through a food mill anyway, there’s no need to peel before cooking.
Also, a nice way to make applesauce (and tomato sauce) is with a slow cooker. It will never burn and you can take your time.