Home Canned Foods: Blue Ribbon Fair Standards

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Home food preservation enthusiasts have been busy preserving the season’s plentiful harvest. Eager to display the “fruits and vegetables” of their labor, area residents are preparing to submit their canned products in the 2010 Cleveland County Fair. Considering the increased number of participants in North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s annual food preservation workshops in Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties, there should be a record number of entries this year! Follow these blue ribbon standards of safety and quality before submitting your canned food.

Safety is the primary consideration when judging home preserved products. Growth of Clostridium botulinum in canned food may cause botulism – a deadly form of foodborne illness. These bacteria exist either as spores or as vegetative cells. When ideal conditions for growth exist, the spores produce vegetative cells that multiply rapidly and can produce a deadly toxin. To prevent growth of Clostridium botulinum, follow acceptable canning guidelines.


The acidity of the food determines whether a food should be processed in a pressure canner or boiling-water canner. Acidic foods block or destroy bacterial growth when heated. Acidity may be natural, as in most fruits, or added, as in pickled foods and tomatoes. Low-acid canned foods contain insufficient acidity to prevent the growth of these bacteria.

  • Use pressure canning for low-acid foods such as green beans and asparagus.
  • Use boiling-water canner for acid foods such as fruits, pickles, sauerkraut, jams, jellies, marmalades, and acidified tomatoes.
  • Follow research-based canning guidelines according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines and/or Extension publications.
  • Label jars with the name of food, date preserved, processing time and method used (boiling water or pressure canning).
  • Entries must have been preserved within the last year.
  • Recommendations for canning summer squash, including zucchini, that appeared in former food preservation manuals have been withdrawn due to uncertainty about the determination of processing times. Summer squash varieties are low-acid vegetables and require pressure canning for a known period of time to destroy the bacteria that cause botulism. Since sliced or cubed cooked summer squash will get quite soft and pack tightly into the jars, there are too many inconsistencies in determining a safe heating pattern. It is best to freeze, pickle, or dry summer squash.
  • Canning pumpkin butter or mashed or pureed pumpkin is NOT recommended. The current directions for canning pumpkin and winter squash are for cubed pulp only.


The quality of the canned product includes appearance, texture, and uniformity.

  • Color should be uniform without signs of over or under-processing.
  • The liquid should be fairly clear and free of cloudiness or sediment.
  • Pieces of the canned food should be uniform in size and free of blemishes.
  • The texture of the product should appear tender but not mushy.
  • Headspace is the empty space between the food in a jar and the lid. Maintain proper headspace to ensure safety as well as quality of the food.


  • Products must be canned in clear, standard (half-pint, pint or quart) jars in good condition with new, two-piece canning lids, flat lid and band.
  • Bands should be clean, free of rust, and not bent or misshaped.

Whether you prepare home canned foods for yourself, gift-giving, or an anticipated blue ribbon fair entry, follow safe preparation methods.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Cleveland County Center, for more information on food and nutrition and food safety, contact Nancy Abasiekong by phone: 704-482-4365, by e-mail: nancy_abasiekong@ncsu.edu, or by mail: 130 South Post Road, Suite 1, Shelby, NC 28152