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By April, the writing was on the wall. More people were gearing up to plant vegetable gardens than we’d seen in quite a while. That meant that more people were planning how to preserve their abundance of produce.

Apparently as people were stocking up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, they were also purchasing canning jars and lids. I actually don’t know all the reasons why there is a shortage, as it doesn’t seem to be very newsworthy material. But it is true that canning lids, or flats, are very difficult to find right now.

It may remind some of you of a similar incident in 1975. A shortage of raw materials that year caused a great reduction in production. Lid manufacturers were even asked to testify before Congress about the reasons for the nationwide shortage.

Instead of focusing on what we can’t change, let’s focus on what we can. (No pun intended there.) Here are some things to consider.

How old are the lids you are using?

When I called every store I could think of within a 20 mile radius and learned they were all out of lids, I then sent a text to the first hopeful source that popped in my mind – my aunt. I knew that she was freezing a lot more than canning these days, so I hoped she might have some. Sure enough, she had a variety on hand. Regular lids. Wide mouth lids. Ball lids. Completely unbranded lids.

I laughed when I looked at one of the price tags. It was a small ziptop bag with three dozen lids from a bulk food store for $2.89. I had just been on Amazon a few hours earlier to see prices like $13.25 for one dozen.  There were some cheaper options, but delivery dates are about a month out.

According to the Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet “Canning Basics”, lids will last for about 5 years. After that time, the gasket compound may fail to seal on jars. It is recommended to only buy what you will use within one year.

Are you thinking of reusing lids?

The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) is a trusted site for research-based recipes and processing best practices. According to NCHFP, “Lids should not be used a second time since the sealing compound becomes indented by the first use, preventing another airtight seal. Screw bands may be reused unless they are badly rusted or the top edge is pried up which would prevent a proper seal.”

It is simply not safe to reuse a lid that has already been processed.

Are you screwing those bands on too tight?

The last thing you want to do now is to process your jars and get a bad seal, resulting in a lost lid and the need to reprocess. So, once you have filled the jars to proper headspace, release any air bubbles with a flat plastic spatula. Then be sure to wipe the jar rims with a dampened paper towel. A clean jar surface is key for ensuring a good seal. The next important step is to screw on the metal band only until it is fingertip tight. This is critical so air can escape from the jar. Over tightening can cause lids to buckle and jars to break, especially with raw-packed, pressure processed foods like green beans.  

Have you considered freezing instead?

If you are short on lids, freezing is an excellent, alternate method of food preservation. The “Food Preservation: Freezing Vegetables” fact sheet has all kinds of tips and recommendations for freezing.

Written by: Emily Marrison, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Coshocton County

Reviewed by: Lisa Barlage, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Ross County

Sources:

Ohio State University Extension Ohioline (2015) Canning Basics. https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5338

National Center for Home Food Preservation. The University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences (2020) https://nchfp.uga.edu/

Ohio State University Extension Ohioline (2015) Food Preservation: Freezing Vegetables https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5333

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