Pumpkin preservation safety tips

Learn how to safely preserve and enjoy pumpkin.

Pumpkins are native to North America and have been used for food and housewares by Michigan’s original inhabitants since before European colonization. Though generally associated with decor, pie and pumpkin-spiced flavored beverages, pumpkins also provide a variety of nutrients when cooked fresh. Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A and the seeds are a good source of immune-boosting zinc. Pumpkin is also a good source of potassium and provides three grams of fiber per one cup serving.

To avoid foodborne illness while enjoying pumpkin or other winter squash from your garden or local farm market, keep these food safety tips in mind:

  • Check for damage to the rind-avoid soft spots and premature spoilage
  • Wash before cutting to avoid transfer of dirt and bacteria to the inside flesh
  • To store excess pumpkin, can or freeze in chunks instead as puree or butter

According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, historical USDA documents providing directions for canning mashed or pureed pumpkin were withdrawn in 1989 because research found that there was too much variation in viscosity or thickness of pumpkin purees to determine a single processing recommendation. Beware of social media sites or blogs highlighting the autumn season with recipes for canning pureed pumpkin or pumpkin butter as these are not evidence-based and therefore not safe for use. Individuals may also be citing outdated recipes or methods now considered unsafe for home canning.

Pumpkins are a low acid food and when pureed, are too thick for home pressure canners to heat high enough to kill potential toxins. While canning is not recommended, pumpkin puree or butter can be made fresh, stored in the fridge and eaten within three to four days. Canning pumpkin chunks can be done safely at home using a pressure canner and cutting the pumpkin into 1 inch cubes. Pumpkin can also be safely frozen by boiling, steaming or baking it and then freezing the cooked pumpkin in freezer-safe containers.

If you would like more information about food safety, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3463).

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