Thursday, July 09, 2009

Food preservation doesn’t save money for everyone

There are many reasons for preserving food at home. Some have to do with satisfaction, creativity or family tradition. Another may be economical. The practice may save money for some, but doesn’t for everyone.

If you are going to try and save money by freezing or canning produce at home, find low-cost sources for the raw food. To determine if you can save money this way, compare the cost of similar foods purchased at the grocery store.

Food and equipment costs

Food costs -- whether home grown or purchased -- can be a variable expense, depending on your situation. The cost of additional ingredients can also vary widely. You may just need sugar or fruit juice for packing fruits in containers, or your recipe may include herbs, spices, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic or other ingredients.

The cost of equipment, such as a freezer or canner, can be significant if you are just starting out. Supplies such as packaging, funnels, jars and lids factor into the equation, too, as well as the energy of running stoves and freezers.

If you assign a monetary value for your time, the expense of producing preserved items at home can suddenly become significant.

Canning

The two most common forms of food preservation are canning and freezing. Many foods can also be dehydrated for longer-term storage.

Canning can be less expensive than freezing, but more time and energy are spent to prepare and process the foods. There are risks associated with canning foods. Specific preserving methods must be used to keep the food safe when stored at room temperatures. Food can spoil and make you sick if canning directions are not followed exactly.

One cost to consider when canning is jars, which cost $8 to $14 a dozen. Jars can be used for many years if handled carefully. If taken care of properly, ring bands should last for years also. The flat lids, however, need to be purchased every year.

Freezing

Freezing is a faster way to prepare food for long-term storage than canning or drying. Frozen produce, if carefully preserved, tastes fresher than food preserved using other methods.

It costs between 38 cents and 50 cents a year to maintain a freezer for one pound of food. In general, chest freezers are less expensive to run, but upright freezers can be more convenient. Better insulated freezers can cost more, but cost less to operate.

A well-managed freezer can save time, energy and gas from fewer trips to the store. To get the most out of your freezer, freeze only foods that the family likes to eat, and in amounts that can be served at one time.

When freezing foods, be sure to use proper packaging to protect flavor, color, moisture content and nutritional value from the dry conditions of the freezer.

Freezer containers should be moisture-vapor resistant, durable, leak proof, flexible, crack resistant and easy to seal and mark. Rigid plastic containers can be used for liquids. Freezer bags and wraps are more suitable for dry-pack products that contain little or no liquid.

Vacuum packaging is a great choice for maintaining food quality and is fairly easy to do. Just be sure to read the instructions on how to package wet and dry foods. Vacuum packaging removes the air that can lead to drying, oxidation and off-flavors, even at freezer temperatures.

Vacuum packaging does add additional expenses to home food preservation. The packaging is more expensive than other flexible bags and wraps, and of course, there is the initial cost for the appliance.

There are different preservation methods for many foods. Choose one that works for your family and produces the form of food you like.

Saving money may not be the major goal in preserving food at home. You might find the effort and expense worth the value of creating your own food supply, supporting local farmers in your community or passing along family traditions.

By Elizabeth Andress
University of Georgia

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