Prepping: Water Bath Canning With Vinegar

by | May 9, 2019 | Headline News | 13 comments

After the post about vinegar went up, there were quite a few questions on some things, and I will attempt to tackle them one at a time.  Many had asked for a more detailed explanation on water bath canning with vinegar to preserve food.

First of all, water bath canning is a bit easier to master than pressure canning, according to most seasoned canners. But keep in mind, water bath canning works well for fruits and pickles, but can’t be used for low-acid vegetables like cucumbers (unless you have a lot of vinegar). Whether food should be processed in a pressure canner or boiling-water canner to control botulinum bacteria depends on the acidity of the food. 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, on the other hand, contain enough to block their growth or destroy them more rapidly when heated.

*NOTE: You should NEVER water bath can meats for safety reasons! Invest in a pressure cooker for meat!

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. Bumping up the acidity helps prevent the growth of dangerous food-borne bacteria.  Cucumbers, for example, contain very limited acidity and typically have a pH of 5.12 to 5.78. Making sure that enough vinegar is added to the cucumbers is important to make safe pickles. Clostridium botulinum can grow in improperly canned, pickled foods with a pH higher than 4.6.  It is critical to use scientifically tested recipes for making pickles to ensure their safety, according to Clemson.

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. –National Center for Home Food Preservation

The point is to be safe! No one wants botulism (a deadly form of food poisoning) after the SHTF! But not everyone has a fancy pressure canner and water bath canning could be the only option in a survival scenario.  In this case, again, ensure the pH is below 4.6 before you begin the process. You can use pH test strips, which aren’t too expensive and small enough to add to your prepper gear.


The below video guide is about the most thorough I could find to help you if you’d like to learn more about canning and safety.

Essentially, to make your low-acid food safe, you’ll be “pickling” it.

NOTE: The only method recommended safe by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for canning vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood is a pressure canner. There are many on the market, and they won’t break the bank entirely.  You can get one from Amazon for under $70.  

A pressure canner will add that extra peace of mind for certain, but a low enough pH should do the trick too. The reason vinegar is suggested to acidify food for preppers, in particular, is because of it’s many other uses. Lemon juice and citric acid could get the pH low enough to make the low-acid food safe to water can too.

*This article is for informational purposes only.  The USDA suggests pressure canning all low acid foods. Please be safe, and don’t risk botulism! **Caution: Never eat food from a jar that has an unsealed or swollen lid or that shows any signs of spoiling! Take all necessary precautions to ensure your food is safe to eat!


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    1. JRS

      Well, we don’t use “scientifically tested” recipes for our crock pickles. We use great granny, granny and mother’s unscientific recipes. They never killed anyone. Try making some 8 day crock pickles. They are outstanding and you never have to can them. They keep on the shelf in an unsealed jar for years. We eat em almost every day. Only difference from granny’s recipe is we now use food grade buckets instead of a clay crock to brine them in. The brine they are made in prevents any spoiling.

      • NEC_Wrangler

        I respectfully suggest the Ball Book of Canning and Preserving be a part of every family’s library. There are other good books on the subject as well, but if you only have room for one, make it the Ball book.

    2. Ketchupondemand

      Years ago Sport Fishing magazine ran an article about water bath canning fresh tuna, with 1″ of olive oil in the jar.
      I’ve been doing it about 10 years now and only once was a jar really foul smelling when opened.
      I know botulism has no odor so I’m not sure what happened.
      Gave the recipe to a friend and neither of his family nor us have gotten sick. And he does a lot of it.
      Tuna has been very hard to find in the last couple of years so we haven’t done any canning.
      I found no treatment for botulism on line–it seems ‘you’re on your own’….

    3. Sam Adams

      I freeze dry so don’t have to worry about any of this kind of stuff.

      • NEC_Wrangler

        in a post-shtf situation, how will you preserve your crops or any surplus of food you get for later?

      • rellik

        I’m curious. You spent a lot of money for a freeze drying machine and use it. Are you really satisfied with the reconstituted food?
        Most all commercially available freeze dried “stuff” is something only a starving person could eat without gagging.
        Any anecdotes you can share, would be appreciated!

        • Anonymous

          Our family has a freeze dryer and we really like it. We use it every week to preserve left overs or store favorite meals, like lasagna. We’ve dried meats and vegetables and several meat and pasta meals, chili, fried rice and almost anything else you can think of. There are some things that you can freeze dry but don’t reconstitute well, like sour cream. Breads don’t dry well, but we’ve dried thin crust pizza and so long you don’t try to add water to it, it eats like a dry snack and is kind of tasty. We are avid coupon users and peruse the grocery sale items for things we like to eat and are amenable to the freeze dry process.

          I agree that the commercially available freeze dried options contain a lot of sodium and are usually really high in carbohydrates. Freeze drying your own stuff allows you to control the contents to the flavor profile and nutrition requirements you want.

          The up front cost of the unit is high, so it isn’t for everyone if you have a limited budget. But we saved for our unit over a two year period and are quite pleased with it. Harvest Right has a lay away program…or they did when we purchased our unit and that’s almost three years ago.

    4. Honeypot

      All American Pressure Canner.



      • repr sleepr

        The best! No gaskets to replace.

        • Genius

          And you can convert it to distill alcohol! 😛

          • repr sleepr

            10-4 buddy! Come-on!

    5. Karl V.

      “*NOTE: You should NEVER water bath can meats for safety reasons! Invest in a pressure cooker for meat!”

      This should be corrected to ‘pressure canner’ with an addendum noting that a “pressure canner” and a “pressure cooker” are two entirely different devices and not necessarily interchangeable.

    6. A local (ND)

      Better learn how to make vinegar if you are thinking about a shtf situation. Also salt and sugar run out if you can’t make it locally. Pressure canning works as long as you have lids, rings and jars. Smoking and drying -until they shatter or salting, if you have the salt will work. The freeze dryer is worthless without power. Jes’ sayin’…

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