Saturday, February 7, 2015

What does the USDA really say about Pressure Canning Butter?

While I am aware that I risk vilification for my pressure canning butter, I am now comfortable sharing what I have researched over time.

At National Center for Home Food Preservation, under FrequentlyAsked Questions, there is a fairly in depth discussion on "processing" butter" (it's the next to the last question on the page), I read which dealt with canning butter, and it only referenced not water bathing or oven canning butter. It didn't address pressure canning.

Below is what is stated on their site in it's entirety, I am adding this because I really want you to read the information. Yet, I still recommend that you actually go to the NCHFP site and see for yourself.

Should I use directions for canning butter at home that I see on the Internet?
Indeed, there are some directions for 'canning' butter in circulation on the Internet. Most of what we have seen are not really canning, as they do not have Boiling Water or Pressure Canning processes applied to the filled jar. Jars are preheated, the butter is melted down and poured into the jars, and the lids are put on the jars. Some directions say to put the jars in the refrigerator as they re-harden, but to keep shaking them at regular intervals to keep the separating butter better mixed as it hardens. This is merely storing butter in canning jars, not ‘canning’. True home canning is when the food is heated enough to destroy or sufficiently acid enough to prevent growth of all spores of Clostridium botulinum (that causes botulism) and other pathogens during room temperature storage on the shelf.

Additionally, when you consider the economics of the process (energy costs involved with heating, cost of jars and lids, etc.), even if the butter is bought on sale, it may not be economically viable to prepare butter to store for years in this manner. Good quality butter is readily available at all times, if butter is needed for fresh use. If the concern is about emergency food supplies, there are dry forms of butter that can be purchased and stored, oils that can be used in an emergency, or commercially canned butter in tins (although we have only seen this for sale from other countries). Melted and re-hardened butter may not function the same as original butter in many types of baking anyway.

There are a few issues with the common directions circulating on the Internet at this time (Spring 2006):
  1. Physical safety and food quality: In the provided directions, the jars are preheated in an oven (dry-heat), which is not recommended for canning jars. Manufacturers of canning jars do not recommend baking or oven canning in the jars. It is very risky with regard to causing jar breakage. There is no guarantee that the jars heated in this dry manner are sufficiently heated to sterilize them, as we do not have data on sterilizing jar surfaces by this dry-heating method.
  2. The butter is not really being 'canned'; it is simply being melted and put in canning jars, and covered with lids. Due to some heat present from the hot melted butters and preheated jars, some degree of vacuum is pulled on the lids to develop a seal. It rarely is as strong a vacuum as you obtain in jars sealed through heat processing. The practice in these 'canned' butter directions is referred to as 'open-kettle' canning in our terminology, which is really no canning at all, since the jar (with product in it) is not being heat processed before storage.
  3. Although mostly fat, butter is a low-acid food. Meat, vegetables, butter, cream, etc. are low-acid products that will support the outgrowth of C. botulinum and toxin formation in a sealed jar at room temperature. Low-acid products have to be pressure-canned by tested processes to be kept in a sealed jar at room temperature. It is not clear what the botulism risk is from such a high-fat product, but to store a low-acid moist food in a sealed jar at room temperature requires processing to destroy spores. A normal salted butter has about 16-17% water, some salt, protein, vitamins and minerals. Some butter-like spreads have varying amounts of water in them. We have no kind of database in the home canning/food processing arena to know what the microbiological concerns would be in a butter stored at room temperature in a sealed jar. In the absence of that, given that it is low-acid and that fats can protect spores from heat if they are in the product during a canning process, we cannot recommend storing butter produced by these methods under vacuum sealed conditions at room temperature.
  4. Some other directions do call for 'canning' the filled jars of butter in a dry oven. This also is not 'canning'. There is not sufficient, research-based documentation to support that 'canning' any food in a dry oven as described on this web page or any page that proposes oven canning is even sufficient heating to destroy bacteria of concern, let alone enough to produce a proper seal with today's home canning lids.

    In conclusion, with no testing having been conducted to validate these methods, we would NOT recommend or endorse them as a safe home-canning process, let alone for storing butter at room temperature for an extended period. We do know that the methods given for preheating empty jars, or even filled jars, in a dry oven are not recommended by the jar manufacturers or by us for any food. Aside from the physical safety and quality issues, and the fact that it is not canning at all, if there happened to be spores of certain bacteria in there, these procedures will not destroy those spores for safe room temperature storage.
From my reading of the NCHFP guidelines they state do not to use boiling water bath or oven canning methods of preserving butter. While they don't state it implicitly, I interpret that since it is a low acid food, it should be pressured canned.
What I am asking is to show me a recognized document from the USDA or NCHFP that states it is unsafe to pressure can butter & why. I could have missed it, I am human. 

That is how I made my decision that pressure canning butter was safe for my family. That being said: if you want to know how I pressure can my butter here is the link: Pressure Canning Butter for Storage
I have also done the same research on What the USDA Really Says about Pressure Canning Milk.

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  1. Replies
    1. I get tired of the "canning police" constantly saying we can't do this or that; or the USDA doesn't recommend...
      So, I read the site and guidelines in depth.

  2. Unfortunately, I have found that many people have difficulty understanding the difference between:
    - there is no USDA-approved method of X and
    - the USDA has found X to be unsafe.

    Doing meat and vegetables in a boiling water bath has been known, and proven, to be unsafe for *decades* (since the 1950s).

    Pressure canning milk, butter, bananas, bacon - there has been no testing done, so they can't recommend it.

    1. I'm glad I'm not alone on the differences between USDA does not recommend and USDA says it's not safe.

    2. My question is WHY won't NCHFP run trials for pressure canning dairy? The Dairy lobby is very strong...

  3. This makes me feel much more comfortable about the idea of PRESSURE canning butter. I may be able to make a little more room in my freezer. Do I have to use marbles, odd thing I don't have, or can I just shake the jars?

    1. Zina,
      LOL. I had to buy the marbles. I think you could probably do with out the marbles.

  4. I home can a great deal, but I've always felt uncomfortable canning butter, regardless if it's safe or not. First of I found the texture is different after it's been melted compared to creamed butter. I've always got better results at baking (which I do a lot of) when I used creamed butter compared to melted butter that's back into it's solid form. Plus for some unknown reason I find it creepy just knowing there would be jars of butter in my pantry. when I buy several pounds of butter, I just freeze it. I'm sorry I don't mean if I offended anyone.

    1. Carleen,
      Not offended at all. We each make our own choices.
      I actually prepare (through canning and such) for times when there may not be electricity.

    2. I think the consistency is different between rehardened butter and fresh butter because of the water you lose in the process. I agree that it's a weird texture! Ah well, canned foods are usually different.

    3. Could you not clarify the butter to make it last?

  5. Good point, I didn't think about the electricity part regarding the butter or perishables, but then again I think I'm spoiled, I have a cow farm about 1 mile down the road that sells raw milk (which I can make butter from) and then mile down the road in the other direction have someone selling fresh eggs everyday. So in long term shortages I don't have to worry about my dairy or eggs instead of depending on grocery stores or refrigeration to keep it for a long time.

    1. Original post was related more to prepping and in the sense of prepping there are no animals or electricity just what you have on hand and so theoretically canned butter and pressure can butter that is should last at least three to five years which is hedging the bet that the world will come back in three to five years this post is from 2015 and I'm responding in 2020 when again it's looking like we may not have any of those resources available in the long-term so that's where the idea of canning butter would make sense again canning is all about the three to five years she'll flowers where's the USDA already says not to do but ultimately most people are not canning for a few months there canning for a few years and hoping that each of the products that last at least two years that they want through the labor-intensive process of canning

  6. Hopefully, i will be in that position soon.

  7. Thanks for this article. I've been reading about this ever since I found an "oven canning" recipe for canned butter. I haven't tried canning butter (or bacon grease), but I came to similar conclusions about its safety.

    I did see one canning website (not a USDA document) that discussed why home canning recipes always tell you to take the fat off meat that touched on butter and strayed into the realm of fats being too dense to get hot enough in the home canner. There were a lot of those "canning police" arguing about it, and my conclusion remained basically the same.

    Thank you for sharing your experience!