The USDA Guide to Home Canning is considered the Bible of home canning.
It’s currently maintained by staff at the National Center for Home Food Preservation in Georgia.
Where to get the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning
You can get a chapter by chapter PDF download version of it on the NCHFP site or a USDA Complete Canning Guide 2015. Merged PDF (merged Feb 2016.) HealthyCanning did the merge of the separate PDFs into one PDF for your convenience for use on tablet reading devices, etc. You have our word that we made no alterations at all in the merge.
Do not buy hard copies of it on Amazon. Hard copies sold there have been known to omit important advice. The current authorized hard copy seller is Purdue University Extension.
What’s in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning?
- Section 1: Principles of Home Canning
- Section 2: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Fruit and Fruit Products
- Section 3: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products
- Section 4: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Vegetables and Vegetable Products
- Section 5: Preparing and Canning Poultry, Red Meats, and Seafoods
- Section 6: Preparing and Canning Fermented Foods and Pickled Vegetables
- Section 7: Preparing and Canning Jams and Jellies
USDA Complete Guide Editions
Each edition makes the previous edition obsolete.
- 1988 USDA Complete Guide
- 1989 USDA Complete Guide
- 1994 USDA Complete Guide
- 2006 USDA Complete Guide
- 2009 USDA Complete Guide
- 2015 USDA Complete Guide
Possible errata in the USDA Complete Guide
Minor typos in the 2015 edition, none of these is a safety issue:
- Mango Chutney (page 2-16): Reads “1-1 tsp canning salt”, should read “1-1/2 tsp canning salt”
- Blueberry Pie Filling (page 3-27): The NCFHP site and So Easy to Preserve (2014, page 108) call for 3.5 teaspoons of lemon juice per quart jar. The USDA Complete Guide in 1994 called for 3.5 teaspoons per quart jar. By the 2009 edition of the USDA Complete Guide, it had leaped to 3 tablespoons per quart jar and it remains there today in the 2015 edition. The 3 tablespoons for a quart doesn’t seem to make sense, given that 7 quarts should therefore call for around 21 tbsp, while in fact it only calls for 8 tbsp (1/2 cup), which works out to be 3 1/2 teaspoons per jar.
- Festive Mincemeat Pie Filling (page 2-28): reads “4 lbs ground beef or 4 lb ground venison and 1 lb sausage”, possibly should read 5 lbs ground beef.
[Ed: the 4lbs ground beef question in the ‘Mincemeat Pie Filling’ goes back to at least the 1994 edition, which is the earliest edition we have access to. It probably should read 5 lbs ground beef, to match the combined 4 lb weight of venison and 1 lb sausage. By ‘sausage’, ‘sausage meat’ is meant rather than sausages in casing. The sausage is likely added for the venison because venison can be very dry. So Easy to Preserve calls for “5 lbs ground beef or 4 lb ground venison and 1 lb sausage” (2014, page 110.) This is not a safety issue as it lowers the density on the beef side. The National Center is investigating.]
USDA Complete Guide History
Work on the first Complete Guide began in 1985 at the Penn State University under a team led by Dr Gerald Kuhn. For more details about the project, see “The USDA re-enters the field of home canning.”
The book evidently took longer than anticipated to assemble. In June 1986, an extension agent wrote that it was anticipated in the autumn of that year:
A snazzy new guidebook giving up-to-date information about home canning and freezing is in the works, but is not scheduled for release until next fall or winter. Although there will be changes, consumers who enjoy the “do-ityourself” approach to preserving foods are advised to follow the existing recommendations for now except where noted here. The new booklet is a culmination of many years of research. It combines into a single manual instructions for canning and freezing fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood as well as preparing jambs, jellies, pickles and relishes. Previously, these topics were covered in a series of separate Home and Garden Bulletins issued by the United States Department of Agriculture. The chief author of the new guidebook, Dr. Gerald Kuhn of Pennsylvania State University, recently spoke to a group of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service professionals and volunteers in Annapolis….. Much of the research that went into preparing the new guidebook came from Professor Kuhn’s laboratory.”1
An update about work on the Guide appeared in the newspapers in 1987:
To take the risk out of food preservation, [Gerald] Kuhn and [Thomas] Dimick, a graduate student, reviewed existing canning and freezing publications and are lab-testing the directions. They will make their research results available to the USDA and draft two new, comprehensive publications on canning and freezing. The USDA plans to release the publications, which will become the national standards, Kuhn noted. The first publication, on canning, will be printed in January. The second, covering freezing methods, will be available in 1989, he said. The new standards will cover step-by-step directions for obtaining food, either by growing it or buying it in bulk; canning and freezing it; and preparing it for consumption. In addition to the comprehensive canning and freezing guides. Kuhn has started a supplemental series called “Let’s Preserve” which addresses, in brief form, preservation methods for foods not commonly grown in the home garden. Already available are “Let’s Preserve” directions for preserving cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, strawberries and other berries, pears, snap beans, sweet corn and leafy greens. It will also provide instructions for making sauerkraut and fruit pie fillings.”2
By the beginning of August 1988, the very first Complete Guide was released. The Altoona Mirror of Pennsylvania announced its arrival on 2 August:
One hundred and seventy years of canning research and experience have been compiled, distilled and preserved in the USDA’s new ‘Complete Guide to Home Canning.’ The guide will help home canners reduce the risk of seal failure and spoilage, improving the quality of home-canned food. The 150-page color publication provides contemporary science-based home canning recommendations and more complete information than the four earlier USDA Home and Garden Bulletins it replaces. “Principles of Home Canning” the book’s opening guide, examines safe canning practices and the best methods to preserve quality. It includes tips on ensuring safety, testing jar seals, storing canned foods and identifying and handling spoiled canned food. The book has six other guides that explain how to can specific types of foods such as fruits, tomatoes, vegetables, meats, fermented foods, jams and jellies. Recipes and ideas for making new products are included as well. Penn State professor of food science Gerald Kuhn, Elizabeth Andress, and Thomas Dimick, a Penn State research aide, wrote and directed publication of the book for the USDA. Several national USDA Cooperative Extension staff members provided illustrations and information for the guide. Pennsylvania has purchased a limited number of books from USDA. They are available at a reduced price of $6 through the mail from the College of Agriculture’s Mail Room, 112 Agricultural Administration Building, University Park, Pa. 16802. Additional copies are available through the government Printing Office at the standard price of $11.3
An extension columnist in Kansas wrote on the same day:
Anyone who is involved in home canning needs to be aware of new recommendations just released by the United States Department of Agriculture. The new guidelines are based on four years of research by Dr. Gerald Kuhn, a food scientist at Pennsylvania State University. In the 1970s, there was a renewed interest in food preservation —mostly by young people who may not have had parents who did home canning. At the same time, there also was a dramatic increase in the cases of botulism reported from home canned products. In addition, different states and the private canning industry had varying recommendations. It’s no wonder home canners were confused. Therefore, Kuhn was contracted to research and standardize canning recommendations.4
Another extension columnist in Pennsylvania wrote a week later on 10 August of that year:
NOTICE! The United States Department of Agriculture has made some new recommendations concerning home canning of tomatoes. The changes came about after extensive research tests were conducted at Penn State University, the USDA’s Food Preservation Center of Excellence Laboratory. Under the direction of Extension Food Preservation Specialist, Dr. Gerald Kuhn, tests were run to identify the safest methods and processing times for many home canned foods, including tomatoes…. read the directions thoroughly from an approved canning publication such as the new USDA Canning Guide… Notice I said new (1988). Since the USDA’s research is complete for this time in the area of home canning, only new publications will include the correct guidelines.”5
In creating the Guide, a lot of older recipes were left out. Here’s some background to that, based on communication with Dr Kuhn. It explains that since some of the older recipes were judged just not very good to start with, they weren’t tested, and so consequently were left out:
Q: I purchased a copy of the new USDA canning publication, the “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” and I noticed that it does not contain some of the recipes that were in the old USDA publications and in some of the old University Extension guidesheets, like hominy. Can I still use the old recipes?
A: According to Dr.Gerald Kuhn, the food scientist who was in charge of the research for this new publication, the decision was made not to include some of these old products because their quality was not good to begin with and very few people were still using them. Because these old products did not receive any recent testing, we cannot assure you that these products are safe.
Specifically regarding hominy: The home canning directions for lye hominy were removed from publications in the 1980’s because food grade lye is not widely available, it is expensive, and there are safety concerns regarding handling lye in the home as it can be extremely hazardous. For additional information and for a recipe to make hominy without lye, refer to the National Center for Home Food Preservation website
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/hominy_without_lye.html . Source: Personal communication with Dr.Gerald Kuhn, Pennsylvania State University, March 1989. ((Accessed August 2017 at Quick Answers. University of Missouri Extension. http://missourifamilies.org/quick/foodsafetyqa/qafs101.htm ))
In 1989, a second follow-up edition was quickly released, largely to correct minor typos in the first release.
A 1991 article in The Wayne Independent newspaper went into more detail on the guide:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued many new research-based recommendations concerning food safety and canning,” says [Thomas] Dimick. “If you decide to go back to basics and preserve your own food, make sure you do it safely.” Dr. Gerald Kuhn, professor of food science, and other Penn State researchers have prepared a comprehensive publication that contains new recommendations for canning safe and better quality food at home. ‘Complete Guide to Home Canning’ is invaluable for people who are canning food for the first time. Experienced canners will find updated information to help them improve their practices. The guide explains scientific principles, discusses canning equipment and describes the proper use of jars and lids. It describes basic canning ingredients and procedures and helps you decide whether or not and how much to can. Detailed directions are included for making sugar syrups and for canning fruits, tomatoes, vegetables, red meats, poultry, seafoods, and pickles and relishes.”6
Jenkins, Kathryn. New guidebook available this fall giving up-to-date home canning tips. Frederick, Maryland: The Frederick News-Post. 19 June 1986. Page F-1. ↩
Penn State University offers free home canning and freezing guide. Greenville, Pennsylvania: Record-Argus. 23 September 1987. Page 5. ↩
Preserving guide is updated. Altoona, Pennsylvania: Altoona Mirror. 2 August 1989. Page D4. ↩
Warner, Stacey. Home Economist. Rules change for canning. Garden City, Kansas : Garden City Telegram. 2 August 1988. Page 6. ↩
Redding, Mina. Extension Home Economist. Use new guidelines when canning. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The Gettysburg times. 10 August 1988. Page 4B. ↩
Canning is coming back in style. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: The Wayne Independent. 4 September 1991. Page 3. ↩