Food Preservation Disasters


It’s ain’t 24/7 kittens and rainbows at the Root Simple compound. We do have our homesteading disasters. I was reminded of this after I emptied a box full of failed home preservation projects and contemplated a stinky trash can filled with a slurry of bad pickles and too-loose jams.

Of course you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet and, in the interest of learning from mistakes, I thought I’d review two lessons learned.

Not Using Tested Recipes
I vow to use tested recipes from trusted sources. Both for food safety reasons and culinary reasons, it’s a good idea to use trusted sources for home preservation projects. Some of the recipes I tried were from unfamiliar books and dubious websites. Some sources I’ve come to trust:

Between those two sources I’ve got just about all the recipes I need.


One Ring to rule them all
When you’re done processing jars and they’ve cooled down, remove the screw bands. Why?

  • So you can clean underneath the band to prevent spoilage and bugs.
  • The screw band can create a false seal.
  • Leaving the screw bands on can cause corrosion.

That’s advice from our own blog and yet I failed, for some reason, to remove the bands on many of the jars I emptied. I found all three of the above problems as a result.

Have you had any epic food preservation disasters?

Leave a comment


  1. Luckily no spoilage disasters over here! I did have one batch of applesauce that I apparently didn’t leave enough headspace for, and it started to leak out from under the lids during processing. But I noticed right away, and was able to transfer everything to different freezer safe jars right away, so no waste. If any time had passed before I noticed though it would have been a sad waste of delicious applesauce.

  2. A few years ago I ended up with fruit fly larvae growing on my kombucha mother, because I stored some fruit picked in the neighborhood next to my brewing batch (it was covered with cheesecloth, but not tightly enough). I felt ill, honestly — not from drinking the kombucha but from the sight of those maggoty bugs crawling all over my “mother,” which I had kept healthy for months. Awful! Had to throw everything out.

  3. We’ve not had any true canning fails yet, but we’ve only been canning for three or four years. We’ve had some jelly than ended up being syrup, but that’s all. And I can always use more syrup, too! We’ve had two batches of beer not come out quite right–but still drinkable. I hope we can continue the trend. The timing of this post is interesting to me as I was just this very morning talking to Matt about how I trust trying new things based on your advice because you share your fails as well as your successes. I like that. We bought a few bareroot fruit trees and Matt was concerned that they’re going to get too tall even though they’re semi-dwarf. I was telling him about cutting the tree down short after planting as I’d seen in the Dave Wilson video you shared. I think we’re going to try it…even thought it seems painful to chop off so much of an already spindly tree!

  4. Two years ago I made a batch of strawberry jam, sweetened with a small amount of honey (harvested from my beehives) using Pomona’s pectin. The resulting jam gelled nicely and was delicious—just sweet enough. I dreamed about all the winter days our family would enjoy these jars full of spring goodness. A few months later, when I pulled them out of the pantry cabinet, the color and overall consistency of the jam was somewhat shocking: kind of spongy and dismally gray. The jars were all still sealed, with no sign of corrosion, etc., but I ended up composting it all anyway, because I was afraid to eat it. Since then, I’ve only made low-sugar Pomona jam in small batches that we can consume (or share with friends) in a month or less.

  5. There are a lot of good uses for too-runny jam, including meat glazes and mixing it into plain yogurt. So long as you’re confident it’s safe, don’t despair.
    I’ve also gone the other direction and simmered the marmalade too long. It made a nice candy, but getting it out of the jar was a little tricky!

    • You are so right about runny jelly/jam being syrup and its other uses, just what I was going to say. Slicing jelly is good because then you don’t have to spread it. Put some water in the jar and microwave it.

  6. Yes I have had a fail – maybe someone can help me figure out why. I have a pickle recipe passed on to me from a friend – she got it 40+ years ago, and uses it every year. The pickles are cold packed, and then the pickling brine, which consists of a 50% vinegar solution and plenty of salt, is brought to the boil and poured over the pickles. I then put the caps on – no further processing needed. I always leave the jars out for at least 24 hours before storing, and make sure they are sealed, but during the winter as I take the jars out some have come unsealed. I don’t lose a lot, but every loss is tragic, as these pickles are fabulous. I follow all the usual canning methods – wipe the jar before putting cap on, and I do remove the ring. Anyone have any thoughts? again, I would like to repeat I follow all standard procedures – very careful to wipe the rim of the jar, and make sure there are no chips in the rim, so it has to be something unusual that is making this happen.

    • Do you mean by “no further processing” that you don’t put the jars in a water bath for 10 minutes? If so, that would be your problem.

      A great resource on canning for me is

    • that ISN”T the problem – if you read carefully, I say that the majority of jars seal just from the fact that the pickling brine is boiling when it is added to the jars, and then unseal later. Further processing leads to mushy pickles. I have been using this recipe for 10 yrs, and it is at least 40 yrs old. I know this is silly, but I get so frustrated when people don’t read carefully!

    • I’ve always known that for jars to seal properly they need to boil in water bath for 10 minutes. (Unless pressure canned, which is a totally different story.) That was my confusion. I have never heard of a safe recipe that doesn’t include boiling in a water bath.

      I’ve had hundreds of jars of not mushy pickles that have processed for 10 minutes in a water bath and have not lost one.

      If you are married to your recipe, I guess you just have to add in some loss to your calculations.

    • Elizabeth is correct. Tested recipes for high acid foods such as pickles always call for processing in a hot water bath. One possible cause of mushiness: not removing the blossoms from cucumbers. The blossoms contain an enzyme that can lead to a disagreeable texture.

  7. If you count odd or downright bad batches of homebrew I start running out of fingers really fast.

    Probably the most consistent food preservation failure is jams, spreads, or dips that turn out too sweet. It seems like every recipe is geared toward the palate of a six-year-old all hopped up on corn syrup.

    Oh, and the batch of pickled garlic I made with siracha was probably a bridge too far in terms of people’s tolerance for heat. Whoops.

  8. I am a newbie, and had bought myself the book ‘Preserving and Canning for Dummies’… laid the book out on one side of my stove and turned the other burner on to heat the water bath… turned around to chop tomatoes and peppers for the salsa I was making. A few seconds later I smelled something burning… yep, I had turned on the wrong burner. I burned the front cover and first few pages of my ‘Dummies’ book… I found it hilarious (and good that I didn’t burn my kitchen down), and still use that book from time to time 🙂

  9. Just this week we made jam. Strawberries from Santa Paula and some pink zinfandel. The recipe blogger claimed to have made extra batches, it was that good. Our jam came out way too sweet. Blechhhh.

    • A note about sugar and jams–with tested recipes such as those on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website–sugar is used as a preservative in order to guarantee a safe product that can be stored at room temperature. If you’d like to reduce the amount of sugar consider making a refrigerator jam (you may need to add pectin–see recipes for refrigerator jam included with boxes of pectin). You can safely add alcohol to tested recipes, by the way. See Kevin West’s book Saving the Seasons for some nice uses of alcohol.

Comments are closed.