Tomatoes! They’re yummy and sweet, can be made into savory dishes, lend themselves to many different ethnic cultural foods, and are just an all around great food to have diced up, stewed, or even crushed sitting on your pantry shelves. Why don’t we can them here at Muirhead?
It’s all about the ph levels, really. Tomatoes, when they come fresh out of a garden, are a high acidic level food. It’s what happens in the processing to get them into the cans that can be a real problem and cause serious illness.
Tomato Acidity, according to Colorado State University Extension Office: Although tomatoes are considered a high-acid food (pH below 4.6), certain conditions and varieties can produce tomatoes and tomato products with pH values above 4.6. When this happens, the product must be canned in a pressure canner as a low-acid product or acidified to a pH of 4.6 or lower with lemon juice or citric acid. Research has found several conditions that can reduce the acidity of tomatoes. These include decay or damage caused by bruises, cracks, blossom end rot or insects, and overripening. Tomatoes grown in the shade, ripened in shorter hours of daylight, or ripened off the vine tend to be lower in acidity than those ripened in direct sunlight on the vine. Also, tomatoes attached to dead vines at harvest are considerably less acidic than tomatoes harvested from healthy vines. Decayed and damaged tomatoes and those harvested from frost-killed or dead vines should not be home canned.
Tomatoes have to be handled *ultra* carefully, or there’s even potential for death! Oregon State University Extension Office even has an 18 page booklet describing how to can tomatoes. The bottom line is that if anything is wrong with the tomatoes you’re planning to can, you shouldn’t do it. Both extension offices strongly recommend the use of a pressure cooker, as the tomato is right on the cusp of the limits of hot water bath canning. Ultimately, the fact that tomatoes walk such a fine line with our method of canning (we use the hot water bath), it takes all things tomato out of the safety spectrum for us.
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