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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.
 
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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 wife, 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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