Today I was soaking some empty food jars I had saved (peanut butter, mayonnaise) to get the labels off so I can reuse them for canning. That’s the best kind of recycling, don’t you think? :) Then I soaked several more that I was given last week – I got six dozen jars for free, and about six of them had labels on them. When I glanced in the box and noticed that, there was a feeling of, ‘oh, not real canning jars, but they’ll come in handy anyway’. But it was really interesting to see that after I soaked the labels off, they were literally identical to Atlas mason jars in every regard, including the name of the canning company on it! Then I remembered reading something posted by a long term canner about this, who always buys the spaghetti sauce in a jar made by a particular company (wasn’t kosher) because she gets the sauce along with a free canning jar. So while these particular jars were about ten years old, it’s still possible to get canning jars after eating up the supermarket foods that they contain.
As long as the glass jars fit the standard canning jar lids, you can use them for canning, in addition to storing anything that you find helpful. In addition to using them for canning, I also like using glass jars for storing my dehydrated foods, grains, and other pantry items, so they come in handy.
Some will say that you can only use jars that were specifically manufactured for canning, and that it’s unsafe to use other jars. When I read this a few days ago in a local newspaper, I also noted a recommendation from the same writer to never reuse canning jar bands – because it’s not safe. I don’t like when people feel they have to err on the side of caution to the point that everything becomes off limits and has warnings on it, even when it makes no sense. The recommendation to throw away bands after one use unnecessarily brings up the cost of canning and is wasteful – I commented to my kids that anyone following that advice would at least be doing their part to stimulate the economy, since the ones to benefit from the suggestion are the companies that manufacture canning lids/bands. And the writer also commented that canned goods have to be stored with the bands on them, which is exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do.
Is it actually unsafe to reuse jars that mayonnaise or peanut butter come in? Though this is frequently cited as a safety issue, I don’t believe it is. I’ve seen a number of people who have been canning for years post online about their experience with used canning jars. All of them have said they haven’t noticed a difference between the breakage rate of used glass jars and specially made canning jars. Some have noted that the canning jars are in some instances thinner than the recycled jars. Some have said that they’ve taken the precaution of only using those jars for water bath canning versus pressure canning, which makes sense to me, if you feel the mayonnaise jars are made of thinner glass and wouldn’t be able to stand up to the higher pressure.
I’ve had jars break in the canner during processing, but all of those that broke were standard canning jars. That happened in my early days of canning, and it was my inexperience in canning that lead to that, not a defect in the jars. So far I haven’t made any attempt to treat the recycled jars differently than the canning jars, and haven’t had any breakage issues with them.
I also like the ‘twofer’ aspect of buying food in glass jars and then being able to use the packaging the food came in. Unfortunately, so many foods now come in plastic jars that it’s not as easy to find glass jars to recycle! (And the kosher companies don’t use standard sized jars for the most part – all those gefilte fish jars weren’t helpful when it came to canning. But I did use them to give Chanuka gifts in, so they were still useful. :)) These particular jars came from a health version of mayo and the others from organic and sugar free peanut butter; I think that the healthier items tend to be packed in glass rather than plastic.
After soaking off the labels, I spent a very long time in the kitchen kashering used canning jars that I either purchased or was given. The jars I bought several months ago were mostly still unkashered, so when I got this latest batch of six dozen, it was an incentive for me to get myself busy to clear the backlog. I was getting tired after seven or eight dozen, and then noticed that my ds16 had kashered 4 dozen instead of the two dozen I thought he did (he marked the boxes a few months ago when he did them), and washed another couple of dozen in preparation for kashering (washing them is a chore since they have to be spotless and that’s not always easy). Tonight when I write him a letter (since he’s in camp) you can be sure I’ll be thanking him for that!
I still have another four dozen to go, but decided to have mercy on myself and call it quits for tonight. Tomorrow I hope to toivel them, along with a bunch of new lids. (Rav Heinemann told us we have to toivel the lids, even if using them one time – and since I’m going with his psak on kashering used jars, I have to go along with that, too! :)) Since I have at least twelve dozen to toivel, that will be an activity. Good thing it’s not a busy time of year for this kind of thing; can you imagine the line I’d cause if I was doing this around Pesach time?!
If you’re wondering how many jars I have by now (Julie, you’re keeping track better than me!), I really have no idea. It doesn’t seem like so many. But I decided today that though a person can say that they never can have too many canning jars, I have an excess of the half pint size (some of you may remember last summer when I bought more than 30 dozen in that size, all brand new)- it’s not practical for my family at all since it’s so small; it’s like a one person serving! I think I’ll sell them or take quart or pint sized jars in exchange.