Home Canning/Bottling Gifts: Food Safety


Photo credit: Helga Gillard Home canned (bottled) foods are wonderful gifts to share with friends and family. An edible present in a reusable jar is fun, practical and eco-friendly.

If you’re giving canned foods as gifts, there are a few things you can do to put the person receiving them at ease when it comes to food safety:

  1. Attach a recipe that includes a) ingredients, b) preparation methods, c) use tips, and d) storage instructions.
  2. Be willing to answer questions about the gift.
  3. Label the jar with the name of the recipe and an “eat before” date, which as a general rule is 6 months after canning.
  4. Ensure that jars seal properly.
  5. Store sealed jars in a cool, dry, dark place prior to gifting them.

You can find fun free canning labels here and recipe cards here to adapt and use.

When receiving home canned gifts you will want to find out a few things before diving into them. It can seem a little awkward to ask these questions, but better that than a sore tummy or worse over the holidays. Never eat home canned foods that you’re not confident are safe. For full explanations about all of these tips, visit the Canning/Bottling Workshop or this fact sheet from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Confirm these things:

  • Preparation method? If the food is high-acid (e.g. jams, pickles) then a hot-water bath canner was probably safely used to seal the jars, but if the food is low-acid (e.g. plain vegetables, tomato sauce without an added acid, meat/seafood) then a pressure canner should have been used to ensure a high enough temperature was reached to kill all harmful bacteria.
  • Seal? Check that the jar's lid is sealed. It should be concave (dipped down) and not move when the center is pressed. If the lid isn't sealed, ask if the food was refrigerated prior to gifting and if so, it should go back in the fridge immediately. 
  • Expiry date? If an “eat before” date isn’t on the jar, ask when the food was made. Label the jar and eat the food in 6 months time from when it was made.
  • Ingredients? Find out if there are any ingredients that you should be aware of for allergy or other health reasons. Sometimes recipes have surprising ingredients.
  • Spoilage? Check for damage to the jar and cap or spoilage of contents. The bacteria that causes botulism gives off no visual signs or odour, which is why knowing that the right preparation method was used is so important. 

This should go without saying but I like putting in a plug for good manners now and again: please receive any home canned gift with thanks and courtesy. You can always decide once you're home if you feel comfortable eating it. Someone went to a lot of work making or buying the gift for you, and that's the nicest part.