Where Are All the Canning Jars?

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We’ve lived through toilet paper shortages, cleaning supply shortages, and a host of other shortages. But who would’ve ever thought we’d have been facing a shortage of canning jars? Ask anybody trying to “put up” their gardens this summer, and you’ll hear stories of going to many different stores trying to find jars, or how overpriced they currently are on Amazon and similar websites.

Home food preservation used to be a necessity – a way of life. Gardens and family farm yielded harvests that simply couldn’t be used (or shared) within one season, so instead of losing so much product, people learned to preserve their harvests through canning. Then, in the dead of winter, when fresh produce was unavailable, families could open the jars they had put up, and enjoy delicious homegrown foods without having to spend additional money. It was, and is, a great system.

As time marched on, families started spending less time growing their own foods, and local markets were able to expand their offerings even during those cold winter months. Eventually, home canning became a tradition – an honored custom of the past, but something only a small minority of people practiced in the present.

As a child, I remember there always being jars around my grandma’s house, as well as around my own home. Although my immediate family very rarely processed foods, we sure enjoyed eating fresh tomato soup or green beans in the off-season. We used jars for everything – storing my dad’s endless piles of nails, screws and nuts; saving leftovers from supper; even storing beads and craft supplies! It wasn’t long before people began using these sturdy canning jars for various crafts and candle making, and with the recent rise in popularity of farm-style weddings, Mason Jars have shown up frequently as centerpieces and photo props. So is that why we can’t find canning jars?

Not really. Believe it or not, this is yet another effect of COVID-19. As people found themselves at home with more time on their hands, interest in gardening and food preservation spiked. Since it would’ve been impossible for companies to have predicted this worldwide pandemic, they were not prepared for the rise in demand for their jars, and production just has not been able to keep up. Although we are coming out of this crisis, canning jars are still scarce.

So does this mean we should stop canning? Absolutely not! It just means we have to be creative when looking for jars! We continue to remind people that they should never use any jar that is not specifically labeled for home canning or food preservation (please, please do not use mayonnaise jars!)  But it is time to clean out those cellars and look through grandma’s closets. Current recommendations state that unopened home-canned jars have a shelf life of one year, and should be used before two years. So if you find jars of food that were processed before then, it may be time to remove the contents, clean and sanitize them, and voila – you have canning jars ready to use! And for those of you who may not have a particular use for them or are not interested in canning, consider making a donation to your local North Carolina Cooperative Extension office, where we continue to provide home food preservation classes such as Family Canning Night that was held in June of this year. We also offer FREE pressure canner testing, available by appointment – which we recommend completing annually.

If you would like more information about home food preservation, or have particular questions about the canning process, please contact Rhonda Peters by emailing rtpeters@ncat.edu or calling (910) 572-6011.