The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) is a publicly-funded center for research and education on home food preservation.
It has at least two roles:
- conduct and coordinate research to further develop knowledge in the field;
- knowledge transfer through outreach to both educators and end-users.
It is housed in offices provided by the University of Georgia.
If you are looking for their web site, it is here.
The center helps develop and disseminate current science-based advice on topics including canning, freezing, drying, curing & smoking, and fermenting.
The advice and guidance of the NCHFP is considered the gold-standard in home canning in the world today.
In Spanish, their name is “Centro Nacional para la Conservación Doméstica de Alimentos.”
What does the work of the NCHFP entail?
Their work requires “pulling from science in many fields to make best consumer recommendations, including microbiology, chemistry, and engineering.”1
- runs a web site;
- offers web-based curriculum on home food preservation. From 2005 to 2013, at least 13,000 people had taken their online course in home canning2;
- blog started in 2012;
- webinars started in 2013;
- youth curriculum released November 2014;
- from 1999 to 2010, the Center managed to also develop at least 34 new recipes / recommendations for home food preservation3;
- assists in development of undergraduate courses;
- gives presentations and workshops around the country;
- responsible for revisions and updates to the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning4
The Center does not:
- Approve specific brands of equipment;
- Approve specific books;
- Approve recipes developed by other sources.5
Challenges they are facing
- developing new products in response to demand;
- keeping up with changes in canners, new appliances, and ingredients;
- demands for nutritional changes such as reduced sugar;
- keeping the extensions and educators up to speed;
- maintaining funding for staff ;
- acquiring funding for new research that consumers are asking for.
Funding of the NCHFP
They don’t seem to have complete fixed guaranteed funding, rather it seems to come in chunks for projects over a period of years.
Over different funding periods, different university extension services will be main collaboration partners.
- Alabama A&M University
- University of California-Davis
- Clemson University Extension
- University of Illinois Extension
- Oregon State University Extension
- University of Wisconsin
- Clemson University Extension
If you care about the work they are doing and want to enable them to do more, let your elected representatives know. The few shekels that the government has invested in home canning research has paid untold dividends over the decades, and keeps on delivering a return. It would be difficult to say that about much other government spending.
Interacting with the NCHFP
How the NCFHP can help you is:
- Answering questions directly related to a USDA or other recipe posted on their web site;
- Answering questions about general techniques related to various food preservation techniques.
In answering you, the resources that they have to assemble an answer for you with is the collection of trusted science-based research that has been amassed by the USDA and various Extension services and rolled up into the NCFHP’s knowledge base.
They will search through those resources to see if there is anything there that can provide guidance.
If they cannot find an answer there, they won’t make up an answer, or guess. So you might not always get the answer you were hoping for but they can’t just make something up — the liability would be too onerous.
The following advice on whether to peel potatoes or not for canning illustrates this. In answering that question, they can only go by the documented results of the research that they inherited. Not peeling could alter the bacterial load into the canner, so that separate scenario would need separate testing (ED: that they currently don’t have the funding to do.) Note how carefully thought out the answer is:
As for canning potatoes, our recommendation is to peel potatoes before canning. That style of preparation is how the research was carried out to determine the recommended processing, and in order to know that the peeling does or does not make a difference, research would need to be done with unpeeled potatoes. Different assumptions might be needed in assessing just how many spores of C. botulinum or other bacteria might be present at the start of the process and what amount of heat might be needed to meet standards for the risk of possible survivors. We do not know of research of canning potatoes with peels left on, so we recommend the preparation steps provided with the process recommendation, especially because there is a possibility that the deviation could result in a less safe situation.”6
So as you can see, they can only give answers based on the knowledge base that they have — what they know for sure. They don’t guess, and couldn’t even, for obvious liability reasons in the most litigious country in the world.
They can’t answer questions about recipes from other sources, either. For instance, oftentimes people berate them for there being no canning advice about cabbage, eggplant, etc, but it was never the USDA that had that information: it was Ball. Ball published the information for several decades, and then withdrew it. If you are interested in those topics, you would need to contact Ball directly on those questions. The NCHFP has inherited all the USDA research and there were never any recommendations published for those things, so they genuinely have no information to give you.
The Center says on its blog,
Nor do we have access to the testing information done for the recipes and processes in the Ball Blue Book, or other private sources. If you decide to use their procedures, and are not able to, or do not want to, follow them as written, you will need to contact the company directly to ask them…. ”7
As is understandable, the NCHFP doesn’t have the resources to even begin helping people to take their “own recipes” and change them into safe canning recipes.
If ever you send them a question, bear in mind that they are chronically under-staffed and overworked, so be patient. If it’s a rush answer you need on something right that day, you are better off trying something such as your local Extension Agent, Ball’s Facebook pages (there are several now for various countries) or Bernardin.
You can be sure that all answers you get from the NCHFP are honest, straight up and uninfluenced by any corporate sponsor. Be courteous and be sure to thank them for their time. They always have an overloaded inbox of emails to answer. And bear in mind that they’d probably love to have more answers to give you on more topics, if it weren’t for funding constraints holding them back in researching those answers.
History of the NCHFP
Amy Halloran at Food Safety News wrote in 2011,
The National Center for Home Food Preservation represents a decade of USDA-funded research carried out at the University of Georgia. The USDA has offered home canning and other home food preservation recommendations since the early 1900s. By the end of the century, it was time to review what was available. Extension agents on faculty at the University of Georgia applied for and received two grants that ran five years to cover the topic. ”8
The initial advisory Committee was:
- Auburn University
- Clemson University
- Colorado State University
- Cornell University
- Kansas State University
- North Carolina State University
- University of California-Davis
- Washington State University
- Jarden (at the time, named Alltrista)
- National Presto Industries, Inc.
Dr Elizabeth Andress
Elizabeth Andress is the project director of the NCHFP.
She wears several hats.
As of 2016, her University of Georgia hat is “Professor and Extension Food Safety Specialist.” She is a professor in the Department of Foods and Nutrition in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia, and an extension food safety specialist.11
She provides leadership in home food preservation, consumer foods and food safety, as well as food service sanitation by “developing or identifying curricula and resources, providing in-service training for educators and assisting with evaluating the outcomes and impacts.”12
She teaches various courses to students at the University, and at the NCHFP, leads a network of teams around the country conducting applied research.
Wearing her extension specialist hat, she teaches food preservation workshops direct to consumers.
In terms of publications for consumers, she is the:
- co-author of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Complete Guide to Home Canning”;
- co-editor “So Easy to Preserve”;
- co-producer of “So Easy to Preserve” video series.
Perhaps one of the main outcomes of her work is to “apply science to the everyday handling of food in practical terms.”13. She says,
The research I conduct is very applied and related mostly to my extension programming in home food preservation. Our findings get released on our website, and in our books and fact sheets, and therefore are immediately known to and used by consumers and other educators.” 14
- BA from Albright College in Reading, Penn;
- MA in family and child development from Virginia Tech;
- Ph.D. in food science from Penn State University.
- Andress got her start in the 1980s when the USDA needed someone to review for it the history and scientific basis of its home canning recommendations. She was part of a team tasked with doing so headed by Dr Gerald Kuhn from Penn State.
- Before 1989, she worked at the University of Florida.
- 1989 – Came to the University of Georgia to work as an assistant professor, and extension specialist
- 1991 to 1994 – went to Washington, DC, to work at the USDA as a national program leader for food science with the Extension Service-USDA
- 1994 returned to University of Georgia to teach and has been there since.
Awards and honours
In 2007, she was awarded the Outstanding Engagement Award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
In 2012, she was presented with the National Award for Excellence in Extension.15
She has also received other extension and public service programs such as Outreach Faculty Award, D.W. Brooks Award, the Walter B. Hill Award and Hill Fellow Award.
“Too many people probably consider themselves experts about food safety based on their own experiences. I like being able to teach people that there are scientific principles at play that can be learned and then generalized to other situations to help in their decision-making.”16
“My mentors taught me the importance of professional ethics, perseverance and hard work as well as making my contributions matter to individuals and communities.”17
Have a look at her work for the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Andress, Elizabeth. Safe Food: Research to Practice. Capital Hill Seminar Presentation. 8 April 2013. Slide 2 ↩
Ibid. Slide 24 ↩
Ibid. Slide 19 ↩
Halloran, Amy. Preserving the Art of Canning Safely at Home. Seattle, Washington: Food Safety News. 26 April 2011. Accesssed March 2015. ↩
Andress, Elizabeth. Safe Food: Research to Practice. Capital Hill Seminar Presentation. 8 April 2013. Slide 14 ↩
Horton, Denise H. Dr. Elizabeth Andress Receives National Award for Excellence in Extension. 26 November 2012. Accessed September 2016. ↩