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The Ultimate List of What You Can (And Cannot!) Can

Last weekend, we processed 32 pints of green beans in our pressure canner.

32. Pints. Of. Green. Beans.

And we are far from being done! That was just batch number one – the garden is still cranking out beans like nobody’s business. 

Send all the green bean recipes my way, please.

But I’m not complaining, because I love green beans, and I love canning.

My grandmother used to can green beans the old fashioned way – using a water bath canner. 

Now, however, we know that it’s not only ill-advised to do that, but it’s downright unsafe.

She was always lucky and never got sick, but I prefer to take the safer route and process my beans in a pressure canner. 

While we were working on the beans, I got to wondering – what are some other foods that you need to be careful about processing in a canner (of any kind)? 

Here’s what I came up with.

home canning

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What is the Difference Between Water Bath and Pressure Canning?

canned food
Photo: Pixabay

There are two main methods of home canning – water bath canning and pressure canning. Knowing the difference between the two processes is very important when it comes to preserving your own food.

Water bath canning is the process of canning your food at a relatively low temperature. In order to use a water bath canner, you need to make sure you have the correct amounts of acid. Time and temperature will destroy yeast, mold, and other enzymes that can cause spoilage during the process of vacuum sealing. The acid does the rest of the work.

Pressure canning reaches the high temperature – 240 degrees – that is needed to preserve foods with limited amounts of acid. Time and temperature will destroy bacteria and create a seal. 

Food spoilage aside – it’s pretty easy to tell if your canned food has gone bad – the main reason you want to avoid improperly canning your food is to avoid the risk of botulism. Botulism is rare, but potentially deadly. It’s caused by a toxin known as Clostridium botulinum. This germ is found in the soil and can cause dangerous effects when it is allowed to flourish in the correct environment – typically, when food is not canned properly. 

This toxin won’t just give you the standard symptoms of food poisoning, like vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea. It can cause complete paralysis and even kill you. To make matters worse, you cannot smell, see, or taste botulinum – it’s not just basic food spoilage here that we are talking about. 

Don’t risk it! Make sure you are always processing your food appropriately using the proper canning recipe.

What Foods Can Safely Be Processed in a Water Bath Canner?

canned food
Photo: Pixabay

If you want to go the cheap route and buy one of these inexpensive, effective water bath canners, don’t think that all you can safely can is pickles! There are tons of foods you can process in a water bath canner without having to worry about any food safety issues. 

Fruit

Most fruits, jellies, and jams can be processed in a water bath canner. These are safe because they tend to be very acidic. You don’t need to have a pressure canner to can fruit, but if you are canning low-acid fruits like figs, you may want to add a bit of lemon juice to increase the acidity. Rhubarb is another food you can usually can, as long as it is stewed in a water bath canner.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are technically a fruit, I guess, but I put them in their own separate category because so many people can them. Tomatoes are very acidic and when you can them, you often add lemon juice to make them even more acidic. 

Salsa

Salsa is safe to can in a water bath canner because it is high-acid. As long as you don’t add a ton of extra, potentially non-cannable ingredients, your zesty salsa should hold up fine in a water bath.

Pickles and Relishes

Pickles and relishes are usually safe to can in a water bath canner because the vinegar raises the acidity so much. You can pickle most vegetables, too, making it easy to turn a non-cannable vegetable into one that holds up well during the canning process.

Chutneys, Pie Fillings, and Fruit Sauces

These usually contain high-acid fruit along with another high-acid component, like lemon juice or citric acid. Therefore, they are safe for the water bath canner. Most fruit butters and sauces – like apple butter or applesauce or even ketchup – or safe to preserve in this way, too. 

What Foods Can Safely Be Processed in a Pressure Canner?

canned food
Photo: Pixabay

If there are other foods you are interested in canning to free up space in your freezer, know that most can safely be canned in a pressure canner – just not a water bath canner. Because most foods are low in acid, processing them in a pressure canner is a safer way to do things. 

Vegetables

Most vegetables should be canned in a pressure canner (I say most because some people still consider tomatoes a vegetable!). Make sure you follow vegetable-specific canning guidelines when you are preparing and processing your food. Here are the most popular veggies you can process with a pressure canner:

  • Green beans
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Spinach

Meat, Poultry, and Seafood

In most cases, you can process meat, poultry, and seafood in a pressure canner. Again, you will want to follow food-specific guidelines for each to ensure that you are cooking them long enough.

You need to be very careful about canning meat – sure, you purchase it all the times from the grocery store shelves. However, commercial canners have better heating abilities than home canners, and you need to make sure your canner gets hot enough to penetrate the outer exterior of the meat or fish. 

Stocks

Meat stocks, like chicken stock, are generally safe to be processed in a pressure canner. Just try to strain off as much fat as possible before canning.

What Foods Cannot Safely Be Canned at All?

Now that you have a list of what CAN be processed in either a water bath or pressure canner, here’s what CANNOT be canned at all. You may be able to get away with doing it once or twice without getting sick, but you’re really gambling with your health on this one. Don’t risk it! Here are the foods you should avoid canning. Stick to freezing or eating them fresh.

Broccoli and Cauliflower

These two vegetables should not be processed in a canner. You don’t experience any ill effects, but the pressure canning process will render them so mushy and soft that they won’t be palatable to eat. A better alternative is to pickle them and then process them quickly in the water bath canner.

Cabbage and Lettuce

Do we really need to say why? Again, the pressure canning process is a safe way to process these, but they’re going to be downright disgusting when it comes time to eat. Instead, process cabbage as sauerkraut (pickled in a water bath canner) and eat lettuce fresh. There’s really no good way to preserve lettuce for long term storage.

Eggplant, Artichokes, and Olives

All of these vegetables can be preserved by pickling, but otherwise will become mushy, discolored, and unpalatable when processed in a pressure canner. 

Squash

Squash should not be canned in most cases. While you can get away with pickling it and canning it in that fashion, it is otherwise too soft to be safely canned. Stick to freezing.

Sweets

Avoid canning candies like caramel or marshmallows – both contain lots of fat which will impede the heat distribution process.

Milk

Any food items containing milk (or milk itself) should not be canned. Milk is very low in acidity, which creates the perfect environment for botulism spores to develop. Often, the fat in milk can preserve botulism spores during canning – something you definitely don’t want to do.

Grains

Grains are dry and have little oil, so many people assume they will be safe to can. Unfortunately, this is counterproductive. When you heat up grains, you destroy the nutrients that makes them so flavorful ruining not only the taste of your grain but also the shelf life. They don’t hold heat well, so the interior portions won’t heat up enough to kill bacteria.

Avoid canning oats, barley, bread, crackers, biscuits, pie dough, wheat, and rice. 

Lard

There’s really no reason to can lard in the first place, as it holds up well during the freezing process as well as stored on your counter, in most cases. However, if you feel tempted to lard, try to avoid the temptation – lard contains dense fat that won’t let the heat penetrate through to all the contents. The food can then become a home to dangerous bacteria.

Pickled Eggs

Pickling is a great way to preserve most vegetables using a water bath canner, but steer clear when it comes to eggs. The skin of an egg is too much for a canner to handle, and this means they won’t be processed through all the way.

Butter, Cheese, and Cream

Just like milk and lard, butter and cream will simply be too much for your processor. Dairy requires a ton of heat to process and it will make your foods downright inedible even if they are safe to eat. Other dairy and dairy-like products you should not can are sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, goat’s milk, tofu, or soy.


The same rule applies to cream-based stocks or soups. Don’t risk it. Stick to the freezer.

Refried Beans

You can often can your own beans at home, but it’s not recommended that you can refried beans. Yes, there are plenty of recipes out there that claim this is safe, but don’t risk it – stick to dehydrated refried beans. The density of the refried beans is simply too much for the heat to penetrate through.

Cornstarch and Flour

Don’t can cornstarch or flour, or even anything that contains cornstarch or flour. Cornstarch can break down acidic food and will interfere with the pathogen-killing process. The same rule applies to flour or even breads, which can harbor botulism.

Nuts

Nuts are oily by nature, and this oil can increase botulism spores. The outside oil will coat the botulism spores and protect them against the heat. 

Pasta and Noodles

Canned pasta won’t necessarily be dangerous to eat, but it will be downright disgusting! They are made of flour and will breakdown almost entirely when you are canning – all you will be left with is mush at the bottom of the jar.

Purees

Making your own baby food at home? You need to be careful about canning purees like pumpkin or squash puree. You can process cubed pumpkin in a pressure canner, but avoid cubed squash, which will compress and become pureed in the process of canning. 

As you’re reading this list, you might be thinking, “Well, that’s obviously wrong – I’ve canned these items before and I’ve lived to tell the tale!” Yet anybody who has ever experienced food poisoning knows what a laughable concept this is. You can eat food that has the potential for contamination thousands of times without getting sick – it’s all a matter of chance. It just takes that one time to get serious food poisoning. 

Don’t run the risk! Play it safe and experiment with new recipes to use up all of your un-cannable foods, or process them in the dehydrator or freezer instead. You’ll thank yourself later!

Ready to start canning? Go pick up the basic equipment you will need, such as:

Buying the basic equipment is a bit of an investment, but it’s worth it. All of these items – with the exception of the canning lids- can be reused. You’ll have a ton of fun and fill your pantry for the upcoming year.

What other foods have you safely (or maybe not so successfully?) canned in a water bath or pressure canner? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!

Want to learn more about homesteading? Here are some articles you should take a look at: 

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Author: Rebekah Pierce

I'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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