CORVALLIS - So your dill pickles turned pink, your home-canned apricots have brown spots on them, and you don't know how long to process your homemade salsa.

Now there's help available.

The Oregon State University Extension food preservation hotline will provide answers to your questions about home canning. If you are in Oregon's 541 telephone area code, you can reach the hotline number at 1-800-354-7319.

The hotline will be staffed Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. from July 22 through Sept. 30, according to Carolyn Raab, OSU Extension foods and nutrition specialist.

Answering the telephone are volunteers with the OSU Extension Master Food Preserver Program in Lane County with support from Extension home economists. The master food preservers have received extensive training in all areas of food preservation, such as home canning, freezing and drying.

"In return for their training, master food preservers share what they have learned with the public in a variety of ways," Raab said.

In 1995, there were almost 250 master food preservers in 19 of Oregon's 36 counties. They contributed 7,300 hours of service, logged nearly 40,000 contacts with the public, and answered more than 11,000 telephone calls.

They also conducted workshops, tested home canning gauges and distributed nearly 7,000 copies of Extension publications about food preservation.

"Public interest in home canning and food preservation in general remains quite high in spite of all the talk about how busy people are," Raab said.

In the past, people canned their own food at home as a way to save on the family food budget. Today, money saving is less important, Raab noted. Instead, many people resort to home canning out of concern for quality or to satisfy personal tastes.

"Some people want less sugar or salt than is found in commercially canned products. Others want to be sure their food is free of various agricultural chemicals they feel are undesirable," Raab said.

Nor is food preservation an exclusively feminine pursuit as a larger percentage of callers to the food preservation hotline are men.

"And we continue to have many people who are canning their own food for the first time. They need to know that OSU Extension can help them successfully preserve meat, seafood, poultry, vegetables and fruits that are tasty, nutritious and safe to eat," Raab said.

Now about those pink dill pickles. If the pickles have been prepared and processed properly, the pink discoloration is probably caused by a pigment in the dill that is used as a seasoning, according to Raab.

The brown spots on home canned apricots are most likely to appear in an area where the apricot has been bruised, probably by careless handling. Canned apricots with brown spots are usually safe to eat, said Raab.

And homemade salsa should be frozen rather than canned unless you are following a laboratory-tested recipe. The problem is that the acidity of salsa is unknown when you create your own recipe. If you use a large proportion of vegetables such as onions and chili peppers, the acidity of the mixture may be low. Canning recommendations differ depending on the actual acidity. That means that freezing is the only safe way to preserve your own concoctions.

"These are the kinds of things you find out by calling the food preservation hotline," Raab said.

Counties with Master Food Preserver volunteers are Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Sherman, Tillamook, Umatilla, Wasco, Washington and Yamhill.

Click photos to see a full-size version. Right click and save image to download.


Carolyn Raab, 541-737-1019