Pasteurization or water bath processing is necessary when canning any vinegar-pickled item to create a strong seal, as well as kill any spoilage bacteria or yeasts. While pasteurization is most commonly used when canning both vinegar-pickled and fermented cucumbers, it can also be used with a variety of other pickled items to safely process the jars without losing any crunch in the finished product.
Vinegar Pickling Basics
Pickled products are made by adding an acid to fruits and vegetables to create a soured product that has a longer shelf life. Fermented pickles use salt to create lactic acid during a controlled fermentation period, while fresh pickles are most often preserved with vinegar or lemon juice. Vinegar pickles that are made for canning should be created using a 5 percent acid vinegar, while those that will be refrigerated can be made using a vinegar with a lower acid content. To create fresh pickles that inhibit microbial growth and are safe for long-term pantry storage, it is important you follow a recipe that uses at least 1 part vinegar for each part water included.
Pasteurization is the low-temperature processing of canned goods to kill bacteria and yeast in jars and on produce that can spoil the finished product. To pasteurize canned pickled products, the jars must be held in a canner completely covered with water heated to between 180 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a thermometer to ensure accuracy, you must maintain this steady temperature for 30 minutes to kill harmful microorganisms. Pasteurization should only be used to can pickled products when it is stated in the recipe that this is a safe means of processing. Pasteurization is often the preferred method for processing pickled foods because the low temperature does not soften vegetables and helps them retain their crunch.
When making a small batch of fresh pickles using vinegar, canning and pasteurization is not necessary. There are numerous small-batch cucumber and vinegar-pickled products that are made to eat immediately, or within a short amount of time. If you are planning on storing your fresh pickles in the refrigerator the cold temperature of your refrigerator, along with the vinegar, will work to preserve the pickles. Recipes vary, but many fresh pickles can be stored in the refrigerator for several months with little change in quality.
Pickling Safety and Storage
When following a trusted recipe, pickling in vinegar and canning your product presents few safety concerns. Because of the high acid content of pickled products, the deadly botulism toxin is unable to grow. The most likely problem encountered when pickling in vinegar is loss of quality due to poor storage conditions. Store your canned pickles in a dark, cool and dry spot to prevent spoilage. If any jar smells bad or anything looks damaged or slimy, throw the jar out and don't taste anything from it.
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