Interest in home food preservation – canning, freezing, and dehydrating– has increased in recent years as more people plant home gardens, participate in CSA’s or buy produce from local farm markets. Many consumers have never preserved food at home and others may be using outdated or unsafe recipes and procedures found on the internet.
Although rare, improperly home-canned vegetables are the most common cause of botulism outbreaks in the United States. The Department of Family and Community Health Sciences (FCHS) of Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, has responded to the need for increased consumer education by providing consumer workshops on food safety and home food preservation. In 2016, FCHS educators Daryl Minch, Somerset County, Alexandra Grenci, Hunterdon County and Sherri Cirignano, Warren County created a FCHS Master Food Preserver (FMFP) training program. They trained 21 volunteers to assist FCHS educators to expand consumer outreach with classes, demonstrations and staffing events to answer questions, with six of the 2016 FMFPs remaining active. These people volunteered at eight events or classes in five counties – Hunterdon, Middlesex, Ocean, Somerset and Sussex from October 2018 to September 2019.
In March of 2020, the FMFP training program launched a hybrid delivery format, with 14 new trainees from across New Jersey participating in a series of 8 web-based educational sessions. In addition, 8 FCHS department members are auditing the course for professional development. Topics include an overview of food safety, water bath and pressure canning, freezing, and dehydrating. Trainees will also practice mock consumer question and answer sessions and learn the basics of conducting a workshop or demonstration for the public. The last two or three sessions tentatively planned for fall will be hands-on practice of food preservation techniques. Once they complete the training, the FMFPs will work with local FCHS Department members to provide public education.