Although vinegar is highly acidic, which helps to prevent the growth of bacteria in foods that you pickle in it, you'll still need to pasteurize the canned goods you've created to prevent spoilage. The process of pasteurization involves boiling your canned pickled goods in hot water for a period of time to kill off any acid-tolerant microorganisms in them. Properly pasteurizing your pickled products will ensure that they are safe to eat.
Vinegar Is Vital to Pickling
The main ingredient in fresh-packed or quick process pickled products is either apple cider or white vinegar, which imparts the signature tart flavor into these foods. These products differ from those made through natural fermentation, which take weeks to prepare, rather than hours. When making quick process pickled foods, you must use vinegar containing between 4 and 6 percent acetic acid to properly preserve the foods. For this reason, homemade vinegar isn't appropriate for pickling due to the uncertainty of its acetic acid content. Instead, opt for commercially-prepared vinegar to make your pickled products.
Pasteurizing a Peck of Pickled Peppers (or Other Foods)
While the acetic acid in vinegar will help to preserve the foods you pack it in, it's not enough to keep the bad bugs at bay, including mold, yeast and bacteria. While you can use a large pot to pasteurize your pickled foods, a canner works best. Submerge your jars in boiling water at a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit for the times specified in your recipe to fully pasteurize them. You can also use a low-temperature pasteurization method on some pickled foods, depending on your recipe, in which the jars are placed in water maintained at between 180 and 185 F for at least 30 minutes. Low-temperature pasteurization helps to keep your pickled foods crisp.
Dangers of Unpasteurized Pickled Products
Without the pasteurization process to kill off any harmful microorganisms in your pickled foods, they can quickly become spoiled. While the acidity of vinegar helps to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a very dangerous type of bacteria that causes food poisoning, other microorganisms can thrive in a high-acid environment. These undesirable microorganisms cause the pickled foods to spoil and soften if they aren't stored at refrigerated temperatures below 40 F. Ingesting spoiled foods can cause you to become ill. If your pickled goods haven't been properly pasteurized, the seal has broken on your cans or the food appears moldy, throw the cans away immediately.
A Peck of Pickling Tips
Heat-sterilize jars that you will use to pasteurize foods for less than 10 minutes or in temperatures lower than 212 F. Do this by boiling the empty jars in water for 10 minutes, or longer in high elevations. Follow your pickling recipe directions in preparing your vinegar solution and packing your vegetables or fruits. Altering the amount of vinegar, salt or sugar in your recipe can lead to spoilage because these ingredients act as preservatives for the pickled foods. When you pickle foods other than fruits or vegetables in vinegar, don't pasteurize them. Instead, refrigerate these foods at 40 F or below, which will keep spoilage microorganisms at bay.
- National Center for Home Food Preservation: Preparing and Canning Fermented and Pickled Foods -- Low-Temperature Pasteurization Treatment
- Colorado State University Extension: Making Pickles
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Canning: Pickles
- University of Minnesota Extension: Making Fermented Pickles and Sauerkraut
- National Center for Home Food Preservation: Causes and Possible Solutions for Problems with Pickled Foods
- National Center for Home Food Preservation: Pickled Eggs
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: Introduction to the Microbiology of Food
- National Center for Home Food Preservation: Preparing and Canning Fermented and Pickled Foods
- University of Minnesota Extension: Canning Basics 2: Ensuring Safe Canned Foods
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