Where Are the Canning Jars? Is It 1975 All Over Again?
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Written by Debbie Stroud Area Specialized Agent, Consumer & Retails Food Safety
I hold cloudy memories of the 1970s. I remember that decade being aesthetically challenged, but what I most clearly remember is Barney Miller and mutton chops. I know weird, huh? Well it was a weird time, I was a young kid, and I lived in NYC.
What I don’t remember is the Great Canning Jar Lid Shortage of 1975; again I was a kid and no one in my family canned at the time so it wasn’t really on my radar. It was on Mary Burgles’ radar and she was more than a little peeved! She wrote a rant letter to the editor of the Racine Journal Times and received a reply from Ball Corporation. Canada was having its own Great Canadian Lid Shortage of 1975 as well, you can read about both toward the middle bottom of the linked page.
The gist of her letter was companies knew in 1974 they were going to need canning jars for 1975. Ms. Burgles had 500 jars to fill, her peas were blooming, she had a large garden and asparagus, rhubarb and the strawberries about ready. Not only were there no lids but the prices of vinegar, salt, sugar and spices were rising. Anything sounding familiar?
Well, it appears we may be having the Great Canning Jar Lid Shortage of 2020. Family and Consumer Sciences Extension agents in many parts of North Carolina are finding difficulties in getting their hands on canning jars and/or lids, or they have clients who are calling them to say they are having difficulty getting what they need to can food.
Here is what I gathered after calling retailers, suppliers and distributers in North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I inquired whether they are seeing increased demand or suffering from decreased supply? Retailers are having more demand from customers. Distributers are having more demand from the retailers. A quote from one distributer “all of our orders are on backorder until December at this time. Suppliers are not able to keep up with the high demand, we get all of our supplies from Ball.” And this from another distributer “Ball Corp has told their buyers they are short on workers, nobody wants to come to work so making just lids is not a focus. It will be at least until October before they start that line back up.” It should be noted that Ball Corp is actually Newell: Ball left the home canning business in 1993 by spinning off a former subsidiary (Alltrista) into a free-standing company, which renamed itself Jarden Corporation. As part of the spin-off, Jarden is licensed to use the Ball registered trademark on its line of home-canning products. Today, the Ball brand mason jars and home canning supplies belongs to Newell Brands.
Other distributers I spoke to relayed not being able to give any estimates of when they could fulfill orders due to an increased demand on their supplier. They also noted that some suppliers had already completed manufacturing runs and had no plans to begin until next year. It also looks like requests are not only coming from those who sell to home food preservers but also from those who supply other industries. One example are candle makers who are unable to get the jars they typically use from their regular sources. Or even the supply having been scooped up by new entrepreneurs making and selling sanitizers sold in canning jars.
From the limited number of individuals I spoke with it looks like the difficulty in accessing canning supplies is due to both a high demand issue with more interest in home canning supplies (for food and other uses) and a supply issue with manufacturers navigating less employees to do the work.
So, what can home food preservers finding it difficult to source canning supplies do?
First, do not skip steps when canning, continue to follow USDA recommended practices:
- Use sound canning jars free of scratches, chips or nicks. These defects can cause seal failure if on the rim (because a good seal cannot be formed) or jar failure because the weakened jar cannot hold up to the rigors of processing. Using true canning jars is the best practice but the National Center for Home Food Preservation has said “commercial glass pint- and quart-size mayonnaise or salad dressing jars may be used with new two-piece lids for canning acid foods (food that might be processed in a boiling water bath). However, one should expect more seal failures and jar breakage. These jars have a narrower sealing surface and are tempered less than Mason jars, and may be weakened by repeated contact with metal spoons or knives used in dispensing mayonnaise or salad dressing. Seemingly insignificant scratches in glass may cause cracking and breakage while processing jars in a canner. Mayonnaise-type jars are not recommended for use with foods to be processed in a pressure canner because of excessive jar breakage.Other commercial jars with mouths that cannot be sealed with two-piece canning lids are not recommended for use in canning any food at home.”
- Use two-piece metal canning lids, which is the only recommended canning lid. The band is reusable but the lid is not; it may only be used once for processing.
- Use a pressure canner for low acid foods such as meat, poultry and vegetables or combinations of these foods. Boiling water canning is reserved for higher acid and acidified foods such as pickles, most fruit and sweet spreads. It should be noted that tomatoes should be acidified whether they are boiling water or pressure canned.
Alternatives to canning should also be considered if the needed supplies cannot be accessed. Home food preservers have options such as freezing, fermenting (which can buy some time to get supplies before the fermented food needs to be canned or refrigerated) or dehydrating foods.
When considering freezing also keep in mind that it might be a good idea to plan a backup source of energy just in case the power goes out. A reliable source of energy is necessary to keep frozen food safe.
I personally am looking forward to not struggling to find canning supplies. But until the canning supply can keep up with the demand, I will lean more on the other options that home food preservers have to safely keep their food for longer.
UPDATE – A representative of Newell Brand reached out to me today (August 21) and wanted me to share the following:
Consumers staying home over the last few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in shifts in demand for food storage containers like Ball® branded glass jars and lids. During the pandemic, many consumers discovered canning for the first time, and we are thrilled they are turning to Ball for fresh preserving.
As more consumers prepare their meals at home, Ball and the entire canning industry have experienced an unprecedented demand. The demand has resulted in supply constraints, extended lead times and recently limited product availability at stores and online.
We’re grateful for our consumers’ enthusiasm for Ball and appreciate their patience as we work rapidly to solve for the supply constraints. Ball has increased glass production, found additional lid manufacturers and expanded our pack out locations to replenish stock as quickly as possible.
I appreciate the commitment that Newell Brand has for their customers and the steps they are taking to produce needed canning supplies.