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Make the most of the season’s best produce by preserving or donating

Treasure this moment, for it won’t be long until local gardens halt production, and the variety of produce at the grocer diminishes.

Should you be fortunate enough to have an excess of produce, what is your plan to prevent food waste? You may consider donating your excess so others may enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables or set aside a weekend (or two) for food preservation.

If your friends and family have politely declined another zucchini from you, a handful of local agencies would gladly accept your (tax-deductible) food donations. This includes The Family Center, Manna soup kitchen, Durango Food Bank and Pine River Shares. While not necessarily a requirement, sharing uncut produce remains best practice. Once cut, there is an increased risk for introducing food-borne pathogens.

Historically, food preservation was a must for survival. Today, it’s more commonly used to prevent food waste and/or reclaim a taste of summer when the days are cold and dark. Food preservation via canning, dehydrating, freezing, pickling or fermenting takes time and patience, for it’s an art and science. However, upon completion, it’s hugely rewarding! Unless, of course, you botch it, then you’re forced to embrace the frustrating side of the learning curve, such is life. As you’ll learn, your choice of technique for food preservation is multifactorial. What equipment do you have access to? How much space do you have to store the preserved food? Which technique will result in the best end product?

You may even ask, what is my skill set? This question deserves strong consideration because poorly executed food preservation can result in food-borne illness. The term illness, though accurate, has a tendency to downplay the fact that death is one potential outcome. To take the guessing out of food preservation, call your local family and consumer science Extension Office agent for answers – in La Plata County, 382-6461.

Safe food preservation begins by following these tips – remember it’s an art and science.

Use safety-tested recipes from reputable sources, written after 1994. Reliable sources include the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Preserve Smart from Colorado State University, Extension Office fact sheets, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ball, pectin package inserts or So Easy to Preserve. Recipes from other sources are typically tested only for flavor, not safety. Account for elevation. In canning, this is essential. Time and pressure vary depending on your location.Use proper packaging. Use glass canning jars, not a recycled mayonnaise jar; use food-grade and temperature-specific containers compatible with your intended use.Label and date. For best quality, use home-preserved products within these time frames. Home canned goods, 12 to 18 months; frozen, up to 12 months; dehydrated, six to 12 months.When in doubt, throw it out. Spoilage signs include bad smell, unintentional bubbling, bulging packages and mold. However, pathogens don’t always announce their presence; execute initial production correctly.Cleanliness start to finish. Wear clean clothes. Use clean towels or choose disposable. Wash hands with soap and water between tasks. Wash and sanitize equipment, utensils and countertops.

Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at nicole.clark@colostate.edu or 382-6465.

Use safety-tested recipes from reputable sources, written after 1994. Reliable sources include the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Preserve Smart from Colorado State University, Extension Office fact sheets, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ball, pectin package inserts or So Easy to Preserve. Recipes from other sources are typically tested only for flavor, not safety. Account for elevation. In canning, this is essential. Time and pressure vary depending on your location.Use proper packaging. Use glass canning jars, not a recycled mayonnaise jar; use food-grade and temperature-specific containers compatible with your intended use.Label and date. For best quality, use home-preserved products within these time frames. Home canned goods, 12 to 18 months; frozen, up to 12 months; dehydrated, six to 12 months.When in doubt, throw it out. Spoilage signs include bad smell, unintentional bubbling, bulging packages and mold. However, pathogens don’t always announce their presence; execute initial production correctly.Cleanliness start to finish. Wear clean clothes. Use clean towels or choose disposable. Wash hands with soap and water between tasks. Wash and sanitize equipment, utensils and countertops. Nicole Clark