OSU Extension home food preservation responds to pandemic

OSU Extension and Bi-Mart partnered to display food preservation tips on shelf displays near their canning items.

Home food preservation is popular in Oregon. A growing segment of the population wish to consume foods produced locally, or control the contents of their food, or reduce waste, or prepare for emergencies and reestablish the traditions of food preservation in their family. But misinformation related to food preservation is widely available, particularly from electronic sources. There are deadly risks if foods are preserved in unsafe ways.

With the goal of providing safe, research-based information to the community, the Oregon State University Extension Service remains the most trusted and reliable source of food preservation instructions and recipes in the state. That is why well-trained, certified Master Food Preserver volunteers are essential. OSU Extension expertise in food preservation and safety became more appreciated and accessed in 2020 then at any other time in previous decades.

As 2020 began, food preservation efforts by Oregonians focused on eating locally, reducing food waste and emergency preparedness. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more home gardens, more time at home for many individuals, questions about the safety of the food supply and the ability to obtain food without being exposed to the virus, and a shortage of food preservation supplies and equipment on the market. Based on questions received, it appeared that a large number of community members would attempt home food preservation for the first time. 

During 2020, the toll-free food preservation hotline, staffed by Master Food Preserver volunteers from Lane and Douglas counties, responded to nearly 1,500 calls, an increase of 80% from the previous year. Another 1,700 calls were received by OSU Family and Community Health (FCH) Extension educators across the state. County offices reported testing 713 pressure canner gauges for accuracy, a true testament to managing the safety protocols required to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brochures with basic food preservation information for statewide use were formatted and translated into Spanish. A partnership with Bi-Mart Stores resulted in signage displayed in aisles based on each method of food preservation. The signage was rebranded for use in some Ace Hardware and Wilco stores.

Continuing to provide current, relevant information to Oregonians during the pandemic required shifting to virtual presentation. Interaction with community members through Facebook and websites became vital. A few examples of virtual information sharing in 2020 included: 

  • "Always check your jars!" a short YouTube video posted by a Master Food Preserver who is now and OSU faculty member, rocketed to over 2.6 million views and nearly 5,000 comments. 
  • "Extending the Harvest," a Clackamas County Extension FCH blog post addressing canning wild mushrooms, garnered 25,298 responses.
  • OSU Extension Service FCH in Clackamas County created a series of video workshops to demonstrate home food preservation techniques and the Oregon Farm Direct Marketing Law (OFDML) to help small farmers implement research-based food preservation techniques for value-added products they sell to consumers.
  • Deschutes County FCH and Master Food Preservers implemented a 15-week “Preserve Food Safely” campaign that included focused web-based materials, Facebook posts and local media coverage.
  • "Put it Up," a four-part series of basic food preservation for 4-H club members, was taught by Marion County Master Food Preservers from their home kitchens was offered by Zoom. It was also offered in Spanish. 
  • Coos County Master Food Preservers broadcast seven Facebook Live demonstration videos, reaching nearly 3,500 people in their area.  
  • Lane County Master Food Preservers contributed to the virtual Master Gardener fall festival with a session on "What to do with all the Winter squash and pumpkins."

The OSU Extension Service Food Preservation website remains a trusted and active source of information. There was a 15% increase in pageviews on the site in 2020 over the previous year. 


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