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What's the difference between Organic, Certified Natural and Locally Grown?

by Lisa Fowler on 09/16/13

Organic vs Certified Naturally Grown vs Local


Todays local farmers markets offer locally grown produce mostly during the months May through October.  Market vendors vary their growing practices from organic to conventional methods.  As a consumer the easiest way to educate yourself with the farmers market offerings is to arrive early and ask questions of the growers on their growing practices, what’s in season and recipes or cooking suggestions for enjoying your purchases.

So what is considered organic?  According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Consumer Bulletin on the National Organic Program, "Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic fruits and vegetables are produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.”

Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) is an alternative certification program to the USDA National Organic Program. CNG offers farmers a way to minimize paperwork and certification fees by employing a peer-inspection process to certify their farms. CNG bases its standards on the National Organic Program but does not confer permission for its members to use the term "organic,” as this is a term reserved for farms that have completed the USDA program. It is worth mentioning that USDA does offer financial assistance programs to help with the cost of certification.  

Locally grown is a common term used for most foods that come within a day’s drive from the market.  What this means to you as the consumer is that you can purchase peaches, watermelons and onions from South Georgia along side tomatoes, cucumbers and blueberries from Cobb, Cherokee or Bartow counties.  

Acid Content of Fruits and Vegetables for Home Canning and Preserving

by Lisa Fowler on 03/05/13

Acid foods are foods that contain enough acid to have a pH of 4.6 or lower.  Acidic foods can be processed safely in a boiling water canner, usually without added acid (lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid).  This is necessary to control botulinum bacteria. Acidity may be natural, as in most fruits, or added, as in pickled food. Low-acid canned foods are not acidic enough to prevent the growth of these bacteria. Acid foods contain enough acid to block their growth, or destroy them more rapidly when heated. The term "pH" is a measure of acidity; the lower its value, the more acid the food. The acidity level in foods can be increased by adding lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar.

Low-acid foods have pH values higher than 4.6 up to 6.9. (non-acidic, or alkaline foods have pH values of 7.0 or greater) .They include red meats, seafood, poultry, milk, and all fresh vegetables except for most tomatoes. Most mixtures of low-acid and acid foods also have pH values above 4.6 unless their recipes include enough lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar to make them acid foods. Acid foods have a pH of 4.6 or lower. They include fruits, pickles, sauerkraut, jams, jellies, marmalades, and fruit butters.

Although tomatoes usually are considered an acid food, some are now known to have pH values slightly above 4.6. Figs also have pH values slightly above 4.6. Therefore, if they are to be canned as acid foods, these products must be acidified to a pH of 4.6 or lower with lemon juice or citric acid. To be safe, we simply recommend always adding 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to each quart of tomatoes or tomato products. Properly acidified tomatoes and figs are acid foods and can be safely processed in a boiling-water canner.

Botulinum spores are very hard to destroy at boiling-water temperatures; the higher the canner temperature, the more easily they are destroyed. Therefore, all low-acid foods should be sanitized at temperatures of 240° to 250° F, attainable with pressure canners operated at 10 to 15 PSIG. PSIG means "pounds per square inch of pressure as measured by gauge". The more familiar "PSI" designation is used hereafter. At temperatures of 240° to 250° F, the time needed to destroy bacteria in low-acid canned food ranges from 20 to 100 minutes.

The exact time depends on the kind of food being canned, the way it is packed into jars, and the size of jars. When it is even possible*, the time needed to safely process low-acid foods in a boiling-water canner ranges from 7 to 11 hours; the time needed to process acid foods in boiling water varies from 5 to 85 minutes. Note: * in many cases, no amount of water bath canning will kill the type of bacteria present, because the temperatures never rise high enough.

Summarizing, low acid or non-acidic foods must be:

  • pickled,
  • frozen,
  • dried or
  • canned in a pressure canner (where there is a safe recipe determined for them - there is no safe recipe for canning pumpkins and squash)

Sugar and Salt

by Lisa Fowler on 03/14/11

Sugar's role in home canning is more than making your preserves sweet.  It plays a critical role in making your jam jam.  That is without the right amount of sugar in a recipe, you'll have a running goo on your hands, not a firm, stable spread.  This is because of the chemical interaction that occurs when sugar and fruit pectin get together.  Pectin  is a complex carbohydrate.  When the pectin in whatever fruit you are using interacts with sugar, chemical bonds are formed that bolster the stability and smoothness of the mixture.  Sugar also serves as a natural preservative.  This happens because sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it pulls moisture out of the air.  In home canning, this is desirable, since any moisture that is drawn into the sugar molecules means less moisture available in the jar for microorganisms to invade and contaminate.  Whether you are using granulated sugar or sugar syrup made from fruit juice, be sure to use the proper amount indicated in the recipe to prevent mold brigade from feasting on your carefully crafted preserves before you do!

Salt is primarily used for flavor when canning vegetables.  It is essential to quality, texture, and safety when home-canning seafood, quick pickles and fermented foods.  Salt is made up of the chemicals chloride and sodium.  Like sugar, it is hygroscopic, pulling water out of the air and into itself.  Salt can however, be left out of the canned meat and vegetables.  Do not adjust the salt variety or amount in pickled product recipes.

Home Canning Guidelines

by Lisa Fowler on 02/18/11

I ran across this short list of canning rules in Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving recently and thought it would be beneficial to share.

  • Use the boiling water bath processing method for high-acid foods only.
  • Process low-acid foods in a pressure canner, unless you acidify them.
  • Always check jars for nicks or scratches before use.
  • Be certain your equipment and preparation areas are thoroughly cleaned between each use.
  • Leave the amount of headspace per jar as indicated in the recipe.
  • Use new lids each time.  A used lid cannot be trusted to seal properly.
  • Only begin timing processing once the water surrounding your submerged, filled jars is a rapid boil on your pressure canner has emitted steam for 10 minutes.
  • Don't use jars larger than 1 quart.  It is more difficult to guarantee the contents of larger jars have been uniformly heated during processing.
  • Adjust for altitude when necessary.
  • Always follow recipes to the letter.  Adding even just one ingredient can alter the pH.
  • Examine used screw bands for signs of wear before use.
  • If a lid fails to seal, remember the two Rs:  Reprocess or Refrigerate.   Freezing is another option if your entire batch failed to seal and you're not quite feeling up to the task of processing the whole thing over again.
  • Never use a dishwasher to sterilize jars unless your model has a sterilization setting.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations between your jars, their contents, and hard surfaces, as this may cause the jars to crack.
We will follow up on the differences in low and high acid foods as well as the cook methods, water bath and pressure cooking.

How Do I Know "IT's" Spoiled?

by Lisa Fowler on 02/14/11

The one question that is on everyone's mind when they begin canning is "How do I know when the jar is spoiled?"

Often spoiled food is apparent by just looking at the jars or smelling the contents.  

It is common for a few jars that you have laboriously canned over the year to lose its seal and the contents spoil.   Maybe you will notice scum on top of the food or the contents being bubbly.  There is no doubt with these indicators of food spoilage..Best advice, throw it out. 

When you take your food out of storage look for these signs of spoilage.

  • bulging tops
  • lost seal
  • product is bubbly
  • product spurts out of jar when opened, this indicates food might be under pressure
  • scum on top of the food
  • unnatural looking colors
  • unnatural smells
Do NOT taste test any food that you are not sure of!

If in doubt, throw it away!
  • When you take food out of storage, do not eat food from jars that have lost their seal or have bulging tops.
  • When you throw it away, make sure animals cannot get into it either. Family pets can get sick too.
  • The jars need to be sterilized if it has had spoiled food in it.  Wash the jar. Place in a large pot, cover with water, and boil for 30 minutes.

Before putting jars in storage.
  • After jars have cooled check the seals before storage.  Remove the screw bands.  Lift on the edges with your fingers and lift the jars in the air.  If the lid holds it has safely sealed.
  • You can also push down on the center of the lid, if the lid is pushed down and does not move or 'pop' under your finger it is sealed. 

If you notice a failed seal immediately after processing, simply enjoy the foods right away. Store it in the refrigerator just as you would any food.

Storing your jars without the screw lid is a good idea.  If the food comes under pressure the seals will naturally break.  The seals should not come off if the food is sealed properly and cooked properly.

It is also advisable to store your jars in a cool, dark, and dry environment. Don’t store in a room or area that may contain hot pipes or a furnace.  A kitchen pantry is usually just fine.  

Direct sunlight will decrease the quality of the foods as well.