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Canning Lid Shortages, Fall 2020 - a strategy for extending your inventory of new lids

 
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I’ll open with the standard admonition given by all the official canning authorities:  Do Not Re-Use Canning Lids.  That said, new Ball brand canning lids became pretty much unavailable as of late August, 2020.  Friends across the country confirm that the shortage is real.  In my area, there’s plenty of harvest yet to come.  I’m worried.  I’ve always dedicated the cold months to canning meat and poultry, since the extended processing time heats up the kitchen nicely, and what if I run out of lids?

Here’s my strategy this year:  For every batch of whatever I’m putting up, I give the last jar a used lid.  I look for one that isn’t warped or severely dented from being opened, wash it well and warm it thoroughly in a hot water bath to soften the sealant.   What if it doesn’t seal?  We eat that jar right away, just as we would for any jar that comes out of the canner with a defective seal.   If it does seal, I put a bright piece of painter’s tape on that jar with the words “Eat Me First.”  The logic being that jars sealed with a new lid will have a longer shelf life than the one sealed with the used lid.  

As I’ve become increasingly skilled at canning, I’ve accepted the fact that there is always a “Last Jar.”  That’s the one that a bit short on product, or that has a little extra water added to reach the required headspace.  By giving that one the used lid, I extend my inventory of new lids without putting the entire batch at risk with used lids.  When it comes time to can the expensive meats and poultry that are waiting in my freezer, I’ll have good new lids to use in case supplies aren’t restored over winter.

With this practice, I’m still able to preserve as much of the current, seasonal harvest as I had planned.  I’m still making efficient use of the energy needed to heat and process today’s produce because I’m not running the canner at less than full capacity. Depending on what size of jar you are filling, how much produce you have to preserve, how many new lids you have in inventory, and how many people you are feeding, you could use this strategy with the last 2 or even 3 jars in every batch.

It’s not ideal, but thus far every jar has sealed and I’ve gained back the equivalent of several boxes of new lids. Still, I have to close with the standard admonition given by all official, credible canning authorities:  Do Not Re-Use Canning Lids.  This strategy does nothing to eliminate the risk of defective seals; it only dilutes that risk over multiple foods over multiple batches.
 
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Elva, welcome to Permies! I think this is a clever, even conservative, approach to solving this very real supply problem.

I would also suggest that anybody who runs any kind of calendaring system (whether it's writing useful dates on a paper calendar, or something electronic that beeps at you, like a calendar or to-do list app on your phone) make several entries for wintertime (perhaps December 1, January 15, and February 28) to watch for reappearance of lids in the supply chain.  Then stock up while snow (actual or metaphorical) is still drifting against your windows.  

I don't want to say a word against the Official Canning Authorities but I do want to share my understanding that a re-used lid that actually seals is no more risky to use for storage than a new lid.  There isn't any silent failure mode of a re-used lid where you'll still have a sealed jar but the food becomes unsafe over time.  (I am open to hearing any contrary theories; I literally have never heard any argument official or otherwise to the contrary.)   The thinking of the Official Canning Authorities seems to be that (a) you're more likely to get failure to seal with an old lid (I agree with that) and (b) that people who can food are nonetheless not to be trusted to check whether their jars have sealed properly either upon storage of the canned food or upon removing it from storage prior to eating.  My own view is that anybody who isn't up to spotting a popped-up "soft" lid on an unsealed jar probably isn't canning enough to be worrying about lid shortages.
 
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I *love* the sound of canning lids popping down! Yes, I check every one! Yes, I'm *really* careful about following the best sterilization methods I can (I make sure the cloth I clean the rims with and the mug that's the best I've found as a scoop, get a full 10 min sterilization.)
And I reuse lids. I particularly check for any dings on the inside "paint" and reject ones that have been scratched as well as any that are deformed.
I *also* only reuse lids on projects that are "safe". I just canned pickles - high acid, no worries. I've made a bunch of applesauce - same. If my jam recipe calls for lemon juice and I've added it, it should be safe also.

I would not take similar risks with meat. It's low acid and often low salt.
I'd only put lids who's seals are down, into long-term storage. If I go back and a lid is up, it goes to the Compost Gods as that's high risk.

Companies and the Gov't have to worry about liability. They are going to tell you the *safest* think to do. I'm prepared to modify that advice within my own comfort level with an understanding of biology and chemistry.
 
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I don't use American style canning jars but use ones with screw on lids. They manage 3-4 reuses before the seal goes. They don't get damaged on removal but the constant screwing and unscrewing as it's used for something like jam can rub off the paint and then they will rust. and the plasticy seal does lose it's sealing ability over time/use.
I have never had a sealed jar unseal no matter how old the lid is.
 
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Elva Alice Hunter wrote:Ball brand canning lids became pretty much unavailable as of late August, 2020.  Friends across the country confirm that the shortage is real.



{/mini rant on}

I remember back years ago when we started canning fish.  Canning Police warned not to.  Even though we were following instructions from an Edu in AK.   We have eaten a lot of sardines since then.

The canning police are advisors only.  Your common sense should prevail.

{/mini rant off}

I read an interesting post on one of the more apocalypse oriented forums.   Family there reported very good results using Tattler gaskets in conjunction with used flats.

The flats in question were straight, and cleaned to the point of obsession.  As were the gaskets.  Both were preheated in boiling water before going on the jar and into the pressure canner.

We are going to do a test batch of Bangus fish next week, using this method.  I'll let y'all know how it turns out.





 
Dan Boone
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Mark Cunningham wrote:I remember back years ago when we started canning fish.  Canning Police warned not to.  Even though we were following instructions from an Edu in AK.   We have eaten a lot of sardines since then.



This made me laugh hard.  I grew up on the upper Yukon and we caught king salmon every summer in considerable quantity.  My mom considered her summer a failure if she didn't can at least a dozen cases of wide-mouth quarts, plus random pints for gifting.  Ideally, kippered in the smokehouse first for better flavor, but her smokehouse was a bottleneck, so we usually got about half and half, kippered and plain.  Kippered we used like tuna fish to make sandwiches, mostly; plain got made into fish patties and fish loaf, which were not hugely popular with the family.  In years when we had plenty of moose or caribou, we often ended up giving away some of the plain jars.  (My mother had everybody in town living in terror of forgetting to return her precious wide mouth quarts.)  I don't recall that we ever failed to eat every jar of the canned kippered stuff.  

I do remember that Mom used to complain that the canning police had gotten her salmon canning recipe removed from modern editions of canning books.  But she had so many years of experience (going back to the great depression in her mother's house, her father being among other things a commercial fisherman, though reputedly never a good one) of success with canned salmon that she scoffed at any notion that the old recipe was problematic.
 
Jay Angler
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Dan Boone wrote:

My mother had everybody in town living in terror of forgetting to return her precious wide mouth quarts.

OK, I don't think my friends live in terror, but I make it clear that if the jars don't come back, they don't get refilled, so they won't get more next year! And since I don't have a place to use my large pressure canner, I only use the wide-mouth 500ml jars at the moment because they're short enough for me to boiling water bath on my stove. I'd love to try canning meat so we'd need less freezer space (hmmm... canned corned venison would be awesome) but that's for the future.
 
Elva Alice Hunter
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My thanks to all who found my post worth a response.  You've added depth and perspective to my original offering, and made it better.  I am grateful.
 
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I have reused lids for decades.  I take care when I remove a lid and clean them well. Of course, I do not reuse lids that appear to be damaged. I have not check the failure rate, but it has not been enough to get my attention.
 
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I really panicked when I could not find canning jars/lids this season.  Got my friends to save old salsa, pickle and spaghetti sauce jars for me with their original lids.  Those worked great for reusing the jar and lid as long as they were not damaged.  I only put up salsa in them.  
 
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In my community, canning supplies are low every September. That's why I buy canning supplies during the winter.
 
Jay Angler
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
In my community, canning supplies are low every September. That's why I buy canning supplies during the winter.

Local stores often have them on "sale" in May in my area, so I take stock and make sure I have over a year's supply of the lids - I never know when someone might gift me 40 lbs of plums and I suddenly need more lids! (*Really nice plums* that made terrific jam that we're still using over a year later.)
 
Dan Boone
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My better half, who is the best internet shopper ever, worked some sort of Walmart.com magic and found me four boxes of Ball wide-mouth lids that were not only in stock at a nearby Walmart, but were in the clearance aisle at half the usual price.  WTF?  I can't explain that, perhaps a return?  No matter.  We don't shop at that Walmart for the duration of the current emergency because it's too small to offer curbside pickup, but a nearby relative routinely does in-store pickup there and wanted a cherry pie, so my lids are now waiting at the pickup station and should be in my hoard as soon as the socially-distanced drop-off of lids and cherry pie filling takes place in a day or two.  

I don't actually plan to can four cases of anything this fall, but this is the month in which unloved pear trees start dropping their fruit in this area.  If I get a chance to pick up thirty gallons of pears from somebody's yard, I'll be glad of the lids.

 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:I don't use American style canning jars but use ones with screw on lids. They manage 3-4 reuses before the seal goes. They don't get damaged on removal but the constant screwing and unscrewing as it's used for something like jam can rub off the paint and then they will rust. and the plasticy seal does lose it's sealing ability over time/use.
I have never had a sealed jar unseal no matter how old the lid is.



I have exactly the same experience. Exactly.
 
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My strategies have been about reducing the number of things I am canning this fall.  

I pressure can bone broth/stock.  I save my bones till I have enough to make a large batch.  Once it has simmered enough to get everything out of the bones and other bits I then cook off 1/2 to 2/3rd the liquid.  This way I only have to run the pressure canner once and use half the jars I would otherwise.  

I have also stepped up my dehydrating.  We had our best gardening year ever so I have been running it just about everyday.  Anything that would go in a soup, stew, or chili got cut up and dehydrated this year.  All the herbs, mushrooms, and a good chunk of the fruit we produced this year are in dried to rock hard and sitting in my pantry.   While this is not ideal for everything it has reduced the my canning load and leaves me with more freezer space.
 
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I've been seeing lids and jars in stock at the stores for the last month or so... Check your supplies and purchase before the rush!
 
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I’m Seeing random supplies of jars and sometimes lids in the stores.  Target, Walmart and my local secret place - there’s only two stores in my state so not useful as a source for you guys.   I shop there at midnight-2am when they’re restocking so I sometimes luck out.  

I do reuse my lids for years and have not had any problems.  I agree that people need to check seals before and after.   Before storage, I would hold the jar by just the lid and jiggle in the air to make sure there’s a good seal.  I do the same thing before opening one.   There’s also the air pop test when I open the jar.   You can’t miss that suction break when there’s a good seal.  

I also use Tattler lids for most of my jars but they don’t seal well with half pints and smaller.   Tattler have the lids available right now for shipping.  I just bought another 500 last week.  

I’m not a pro at canning but since I have over 1000 jars put up especially since last January, I’ve had a lot of empirical data.  

My in laws went through 500 lbs of tomatoes in 6 months and it was complemented by canned tomatoes so I cycle the reused lids a lot.  
 
John F Dean
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Hi Lulu,

Welcome to Permies!
 
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I find this topic fascinating, living under what is, in effect, a permanent shortage of both jars and lids.

A pack of 12 wide-mouth lids costs NZ$5.70 (US$4.09). A single new quart jar is the same price, with a pint jar only slightly cheaper ($4.60). If you are persistent, lucky, and willing to drive significant distances, you can find vintage preserving jars for as little as $2 per jar. For this reason, the majority of people who do preservation in New Zealand are either hold-outs from years gone by when Agee jars were still available, or people who re-use glass jars from the supermarket. As bottling has become a hobby of hipsters and the well-to-do, there has been an increased interest in preserving, but despite the increase in demand, you can still only buy single jars for high prices--I haven't seen a pack of a dozen like folks can get in the USA. There has been a proliferation of knockoff preserving jars in the last couple of year that are only slightly less expensive, but I am unclear on whether they have been manufactured to withstand the canning process.

Because of the high cost of new jars and low availability of affordable ($2/ea) vintage jars, I have only been able to acquire around 50 proper pint jars, which I reserve for tomato puree and pickles, which benefit from the wide mouth. I re-use lids. Every year, I go through all my lids and identify any that are warped, dented, or starting to rust on the inside, and either use them for dry goods storage, coasters, or send them to metal recycling. I have re-used single lids ten or more times without trouble. If a lid ever fails to seal, it goes out into the metal recycling bin. As these 50 jars with re-used lids are not sufficient for my bottling needs (and are so precious that I would never even conscience giving food away in them for fear the jar would not be returned!!!), I also re-use store bought jars. You can preserve safely in these re-used glass jars. Whatever was originally in them, they were designed to withstand the pressures of the commercial bottling process. Authorities from the USA are quick to state that these jars should not be used more than once because they were not designed for re-use, but this is frankly silly. Perhaps someone may have a jar break in the water bath canner every now and then, but I've only had a jar break twice in six years, and both times it was a proper bottling jar--never with re-used storebought jars, despite the latter comprising the majority of my preserving jars. If you look at wholesale suppliers, you can often obtain new lids for these storebought jars as well, extending their working life.

I do think that there is a potential market opportunity for someone to manufacture a stainless steel lid with a gasket like Tattler makes--these would be able to be re-used for significantly longer. Hopefully the current shortage and resultant higher prices is an incentive for someone to do so! I am certainly considering it myself!
 
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Thank you John.

I forget to mention that I do reuse the glass jars of food I buy in the store.  The problem is that they’re not all suitable for canning because of the lids.   I reuse them for dry storage.  

My favorite type of jars to use for canning is Weck but they are terribly expensive here so I only buy them used from garage sale.  It’s all glass with a rubber gasket.   I only have a few as it’s not as popular in the US.  
 
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I have been using Tattler lids for years. I have good success with jams and water bath stuff (tomato sauce, fruit, apple sauce etc.).  I have terrible success (high failure rate on seals) for pressure canner stuff (meat and fish).  
I have thought this is because the method for canning with these lids is to not tighten them down until AFTER processing.  The lids need to be loose enough to allow for pressure release during processing. Not a problem for fruit and vegetables, but I think the fat in the meat and fish is getting around the rubber gasket when the pressure is releasing during processing. I think that’s why they ate not sealing (I get about half fails—too much for expensive product).
Other people have said they have good experiences with water bath and not so hood with pressure. But no one has talked about this being the issue.
Anyone out there can weigh in?
I too have found lids expensive and hard to come by. But do not want to re-use lids for meat.  
 
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We found canning lids at dollar general last night for $1.75 for 12.  They looked to be stocked well with lids and jars if needed.
 
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