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TEXARKANA, Ark. –
Have you ever visited the canning exhibits at the fair and wondered, “How did they
do that?” Believe it or not, it’s really quite easy. It just requires a little time
to produce blue ribbon canning entries.
The following tips will help you prepare blue ribbon quality food exhibits for fairs:
First and foremost, remember the primary reason for canning is to extend the food
supply beyond the growing season with safe, high quality food. This means that the
first thing a fair judge will consider is whether or not the product is safe. Judges
will not taste the product or open the jar, but can tell through other means.
Although it is sometimes difficult for a judge to determine the actual processing
procedure used, most judges are very adept at recognizing when a product has not been
A seal on the jar usually indicates it has received some form of heat treatment and
there are a number of ways to make a jar seal that do not assure safety. This means
a judge will check for a seal but will not let the presence of a seal be the only
factor in determining if the product is safe.
One key to assuring safety that is easy for a judge to spot is the amount of head
space in the jar. Head space is the empty space between the top of the food and the
bottom of the lid. The food expands into this space during heating, forcing out trapped
air so that no air is available for use by potential spoilage organisms.
If too much space is left, the food will not expand enough to get all the air out.
If too little is left, there will not be enough room for the food to expand and it
will cook out of the jar. If you have noticed green beans with only half a jar of
liquid, this may have been the reason and will not give you a blue ribbon entry.
Recommended head space amounts are:
The way the food is packed into the jar is also an indication of the safety of the
product that is easily assessed by a judge. Food should be packed tight enough to
make efficient use of space but not so tightly that heat circulation during processing
A number of other product characteristics can offer judges a clue to the amount of
cooking, and therefore the potential for safety of the product. For example, liquid
in the jar should be clear and free of bubbles or material from the food. The product
should appear cooked without being either too firm or mushy. The color of the product
should be characteristic of a cooked product.
After a judge has determined the product has been processed safely, they then look
at the appearance of the product. Canned foods presented for judging at the fair should
be in standard canning jars that are clean. Commercial jars such as those used for mayonnaise, peanut butter and coffee are not
recommended for canning and are not allowed for competition at the fair. Lids should be clean and free of dents and rust.
Product pieces should be uniform in size and shape. Although this uniformity helps
assure adequate heat transfer and a safer product, a safe product can be produced
for home use allowing some variation in the size and shape of product pieces. However,
a product for entry in the fair should be as close to perfect as it can get, and this
includes having product pieces as similar as possible.
You too can have blue ribbon entries at the fairs by following the above mentioned
For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or
visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse, or contact your local county Extension agent.
Tried & True Tip: Don’t over-pack foods when filling jars; this allows for expansion and formation
of a proper vacuum seal. Food forced into the sealing surface while expanding, or
undergoing rapid pressure drops, can break the seal. Make sure the rim of the jar,
lid and ring are immaculately clean before placing lid on jar and processing.
By Carla DueCounty Extension Agent - FCSU of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854 (870) 779-3609 email@example.com