Canning 101: Why Pumpkin Butter Can’t Be Canned

pumpkins

This time of year, a canner’s fancy turns to pumpkins. Tis the season for all things round, orange and squashy, after all. However, as you start searching for recipes for home canned pumpkin butter from reputable sources, you’re going to find yourself disappointed. You see, both the USDA and the National Center for Home Food Preservation are going to tell you the same thing. Don’t do it.

I’m sure there are more than a few of you out there saying to yourself, “but I’ve been making and water bath canning pumpkin butter for years!” And it’s true, many years ago, there were USDA-approved recipes for pumpkin butter. Unfortunately, the rules of canning are not a static canon and so, in 1989 the USDA changed their recommendations and the NCHFP followed suit. No home canning for pumpkin butter, not even in a pressure canner.

The reasons why homemade pumpkin butter isn’t recommended are several. When cooked down into a butter, pumpkin flesh becomes quite dense, making it difficult for the heat produced in a canner to penetrate fully through the contents of the jar. This means that even in a pressure canner, the interior of the jar may not reach the 240 degrees needed to kill those pesky botulism spores.

Additionally, pumpkin and all other winter squash are a low-acid vegetables, meaning that without careful treatment, they could potentially be a friendly environment in which botulism spores might grow into their toxic adult state. In tests, it’s been found that the pH of pumpkin has a fairly wide range, meaning that it’s not possible to offer a basic acidification ratio as there is for other borderline and low acid foods.

The good news is that pumpkin butter can be frozen and also keeps quite well in the fridge, so it doesn’t have to be entirely off the menu. I’ve also been pondering whether one could make a an apple-pumpkin butter that would be high enough in acid to be safe for canning, but would contain enough pumpkin to be sufficiently autumnal. I may do a bit of playing around, to see if I can get somewhere close to the flavor I’d like to eat.

If you’re curious to read more about the safety hazards of canning pumpkin butter and other squash purees, click here to download the PDF that was the primary source for this post.

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159 Responses to Canning 101: Why Pumpkin Butter Can’t Be Canned

  1. 51
    Melissa says:

    Ok this is a little to late I just put a pie pumpkin in the oven to roast it so I can make pumpkin butter because I have a lot of customers asking for it. I am getting mixed reviews not only here but on other sites about canning pumpkin butter. I found several recipes that say to add 1/3 cup lemon juice to the recipe. When I make pies I usually pull the pumpkin straight from the oven, puree it and then bake it after adding everything to it. This is the first on pumpkin butter but I was going to treat it like any other fruit/veggie I have canned. Which is anything thing that has low acid add lemon juice to it( lets face it I put lemon juice in everything), I can my extremely hot fruits and veggie ( I know cause I have gotten second degree burns from them splashing up from the pot) and process everything in a water bath for 25 minutes just to be safe. I am hoping doing this it will be safe.

    • 51.1
      Marisa says:

      Melissa, it is not safe to can pumpkin butter using any method. You cannot just hope it will be safe. If your customers are demanding it, make it as a refrigerator-only product. You cannot treat it like every other thing you’ve canned. Seriously, don’t do it.

    • 51.2
      katzcradul says:

      Melissa ~

      I would not hesitate to make pumpkin butter as you describe. If you’ve baked the pumpkin at 350 degrees, you have killed any innate botulism. If you are clean and sanitary in the rest of the process, and everything is as hot as it can be, the butter, jars, etc, you should not have a problem.

      • Marisa says:

        Folks, once again, I have to beg to differ. Just because you put something in a 350 degree oven doesn’t mean that the actual product reaches 350 degrees. Baking does not kill botulism spores. The only way to dependably elevate temperatures high enough to kill botulism spores is to do so with a pressure canner. However, it has been found that because pumpkin butter is so dense, even when canned in a pressure canner, the heat doesn’t reliably penetrate to the center of the jars. So you can’t reliably can pumpkin butter in any fashion. If you are using lemon juice to elevate acidity, you must check the product with a pH meter in order to ensure that you’ve reached those safe levels. Seriously, I don’t recommend this.

        • Elizabeth Newbauer says:

          Ok What I am going to say on this issue is that I bake my pumpkins at 400* for 2 hours so that they are nothing but mush and the skins come off very easy. Then I run the mush thru my food strainer and then return it to the stove again and heat it up once move. I use a thermomater and I can tell you that in the middle of that pan it never reads under 275*. And then I make my pumpkin butter. I also add lemon juice just to be on the safe side. SO while I understand that as a whole everyone is saying do not do it. THere are ways that you can make sure that there are no spores.

          • Marisa says:

            This is still not safe. There’s no way to guarantee that any present botulism spores are all killed. It’s best not to gamble with this sort of thing.

      • Sara says:

        You have killed all the botulism by baking it for so long at such a high temp. If you dont add spores to it after that….you wont have any in it.

    • 51.3
      Joanne says:

      I have been making and canning pumpkin butter for years. I add lemon juice, I make sure the pumpkin butter is very hot, the 1/2 pint jars are very hot and the lids are very hot and I water bath it for 25 to 30 minutes. I have never had a problem, neither has my Mom. The USDA recommended it for years, then all of a sudden changed their minds. I still do it. Like I said, I have NEVER had a problem. You just have to make sure everything is very hot and you process it 25 to 30 minutes.

      • Amie says:

        Don’t forget, the USDA also made all restaurants get rid of their wooden cutting boards in a mad frenzy, without doing much research at all, only to find out that they were perfectly safe after doing research.

        The USDA, also in a mad frenzy, passed laws saying that all apple cider must be pasteurized (with extremely few exceptions) because a child got salmonella from un-pasteurized apple cider. But alas, once again, after actually doing research it was found the child got it from lettuce. The damage to local apple orchards was already done and many have since gone out of business because the mass hysteria was supported by the USDA without ANY research and the laws on pasteurization remain (lord forbid they put as much media attention into their mistake than they did the frenzy).

  2. 52
    Ann says:

    I am using manufacturer’s canned pumpkin to make my pumpkin butter. Using a pressure canner, is it still unsafe to can pumpkin butter?

    • 52.1
      Marisa says:

      It doesn’t matter what variety of pumpkin you use. Pumpkin butter is not safe for canning whether it was made from fresh pumpkin or canned.

  3. 53
    Allyson says:

    I baked my pumpkin, and now making a butter. I was…actually am in the process of canning. I guess i will take the jars out and put in the frig.
    I was planning on shipping the butter to family. I guess thats not a good idea.
    Is it possible to get sick of the butter if it is not continually in the frig? Can i keep in my frig and just handout to people?

    • 53.1
      Marisa says:

      It’s fine if you keep it refrigerated, as the temperature will inhibit the growth of any botulism spores into the botulism toxin.

  4. 54
    Joanna says:

    Just a thought…manufacturers (ball jars potentially in this case) are all about reputation and liabilities….I’ve made it for years and have not killed anyone, nor made them sick. It’s a tradition for my for family and they LOVE it. Prior to that I bought it at a local apple farm and never got sick. Hmmm odds seem pretty good. Companies cannot afford that .5% that did not get the sanitation right…be true to yourself … :)

  5. 55
    Tony says:

    If something can be canned in a can, like pumpkin, why can’t it be canned in a jar? How does Libby’s do it?

  6. 56
    katelyn says:

    so has anyone found a recipe with apple that may help? I found a few recipes online with apple but is it just something im going to
    have to keep in the fridge?

  7. 57
    Tonya says:

    So, I can still use the cold pack method to seal the jars nicely, and as long as it stays refrigerated it should be ok?

  8. 58

    […] freeze it. Since it is August, I will put some in the freezer and save it for fall.   Why you cannot can pumpkin is explained at this […]

  9. 59
    Debbied says:

    Thanks for the info! How long will the pumpkin butter keep in the refrigerator or freezer? Also, does the freezer affect the consistency?

    • 59.1
      Marisa says:

      If it is well packaged, it will be good for 2-3 weeks in the fridge and 6-9 months in the freezer. Things do lose some moisture in the freezer, so it will get a little bit thicker and stickier over time.

  10. 60
    Kitterztoo says:

    Found your post first when I searched pumpkin butter recipe for canning. I’ve studied microbiology in college (my major). When I saw there was a possible fluctuation of pH in processing, I knew immediately it would be a breeding ground for bacteria. The amount of acid that would have to be added to prevent bacterial growth would make the finished product taste horrible.

    Thanks for the new regulations regarding processing of winter squashes!

  11. 61
    Clyde Burrie says:

    …just a random thought…
    Has anyone thought of using a microwave to bring the pumpkin butter to temp before canning or is it still a question of acidity?
    THANKS in advance!!

  12. 62
    Dede says:

    I cooked some apples in butter and brown sugar then I water bathed them. Since I cooked,them in butter will they go bad? I cooked them 2 days ago will they still be good if I put them in the frig?

  13. 63
    Kathleen Brenner says:

    While searching for a recipe to can pumpkin butter I am now finding that we aren’t supposed to can mashed/pureed pumpkin at all!! Not even in a pressure canner. Since when? I know they insist now you can do it in hot water bath event though that’s how most of our Grandmothers did it but now not even in a pressure canner. That’s nonsense.
    http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_can_pump.pdf

  14. 64

    […] A reader has pointed out to me that it is no longer recommend to can Pumpkin […]

  15. 65
    michelle says:

    Ok, im new at canning ( some things) but what i dont undetstand is, if youcan do pumpkin cubes, what is the difference if you can puree?

    • 65.1
      Marisa says:

      It’s an issue of density. Pumpkin cubes are less dense than pumpkin puree, so the heat of the canner is better able to penetrate and kill the botulism spores.

  16. 66
    pam says:

    Hi i have a pumpkin butter recipie that has orange juice, honey and sugar is that ok to can?

  17. 67
    Bonnie says:

    I was going to send pumpkin butter to relatives. What if I packed frozen pumpkin butter and shipped them. And upon arrival give instructions to refridgerate. ?

  18. 68
    Skye says:

    What if you make an apple butter with a smaller portion of canned pumpkin added, say 8c apples, 2c. pumpkin and then add cider vinegar to the recipe? Wouldn’t these proportions and additional acidity make it safe? It seems like there has to be a way to do it to make it safe to can.

  19. 69
    Sam says:

    I buy pumpkin butter every Feb, when i go to TN, and it is canned and on a shelf. And it is homemade. Ive been buying it for the last 3 years now, and actually still have some in my fridge from my last trip, and its still good. And no one that has eaten it has gotten sick.

    • 69.1
      Marisa says:

      It doesn’t matter that you’ve not gotten sick. There an inherent risk with pumpkin butter.

      • Mary Collins says:

        Don’t get me wrong…I am very cautious….my grandmother canned everything to include chickens, fruits, vegetables, ketchup…you name it. No one died…she lived to be 87…..

  20. 70
    Stephanie Penglase says:

    LOL! Poor you repeating yourself over and over! Why don’t you just can pumpkin with all the spices you need…When your ready to use as butter, toss it in the blender! You got your shelf stable pumpkin that you can ship out to people and everyone is happy ! I wouldn’t mind throwing it in the blender for a few seconds if it was something someone made for me!

  21. 71
    Rachel says:

    Lol, this is kind of a funny thread… ITS NOT SAFE PEOPLE! Just because someone hasn’t gotten sick, doesnt mean they WONT get sick. All canning recipes must be approved – you can boil that pumpkin in lemon juice and it STILL won’t be safe. Save your time canning and throw it in the deep freeze! I have both pumpkin and apple butters in my freezer and they thaw beautifully.

  22. 72
    Chris says:

    Hello Marisa!

    I would like to freeze some pumpkin butter, what do you recommend for storing. Is it safe to store it in Bernardin canning jars to be thawed and used as needed? Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you

    • 72.1
      Marisa says:

      It’s perfectly safe to freeze pumpkin butter. Just make sure you freeze it in straight sided jars and that you defrost it slowly so that you don’t shock the jars.

  23. 73
    Andrea says:

    If a person uses commercially canned pumpkin, which has been processed to kill the botulism spores, would it be safe to water bath can pumpkin butter?

    • 73.1
      Marisa says:

      Unfortunately, it does not matter if it’s been previously pressure canned. It will still be too dense for the heat to penetrate and kill off any bacteria. And botulism spores can be introduced once the jars are opened. It’s really just not safe.

  24. 74

    […] Pumpkin butter is delicious. And several of you have suggested I make it for sale at the market. Sorry folks but the USDA says no can do! […]

  25. 75

    […] internet search turned up this page– Canning 101: Why Pumpkin Can’t be Canned. ARG! I turned off the burner, removed the jars from the canner, loosened all the lids that had […]

  26. 76
    Mary Rabon says:

    I have never canned. I have made pumpkin butter over the years that has pectin in it, and refrigerated for up to 3 weeks according to recipe. Today I made some and actually sealed my jars by putting them in boiling water for 10 minutes and letting stay in pot for 5 more minutes. I refrigerated after cooling. They are sealed. Now this may be stupid question, but would it be safe from botulism as long as I eat it before 3 weeks and it is refrigerated. Does the botulism grow only over time?

  27. 77
    josh says:

    So Marisa, if I’m understanding you correctly, you are saying that it’s okay to can pumpkin butter as long as you add enough butter first?

  28. 78
    Sharon says:

    I was going to repackage commercial pumpkin butter in small Ball jars to give out as gifts. This is ok, right, since the pumpkin butter has already been processed commercially? How long should. I steam it after repackaging?

    • 78.1
      Marisa says:

      It is still unsafe. It doesn’t matter that the butter was commercially canned, as soon as you open the jars, you run the risk of introducing bacteria. Because of the density of the butter, the heat of the canning pot struggles to penetrate the product fully and so it runs the risk of going bad. At no time should pumpkin butter be canned at home, whether it’s homemade or commercially produced.

      • Janae says:

        is it ok to take fresh pumpkin that has been mashed, freeze it then later thaw and make pumpkin butter in the slow cooker then refrigerate

        • Marisa says:

          Yes. The only danger with pumpkin butter is sealing it into an air tight container and storing it at room temperature.

          • Janae says:

            what if I put it into a container that may not be air tight but is kept refrigerated. Say a little Christmas container that has a lid

  29. 79
    BJ says:

    What about sweet potato butter (with apples)? Can I process it and keep it?

  30. 80

    […] to question authority, I’m not a scientist so I’m just going to follow the rules.  Marisa from Food In Jars has a thorough explanation over on her website here.  If you don’t have a freezer and are desperate for something that can go in a jar, SB […]

  31. 81
    Amanda says:

    Hi! I just canned two pressure canner loads of mixed winter squash (kabocha, hubbard, pumpkin) cubes, and after cooling, the liquids in the jars of both batches became semi-gelatinous and opaque. Did something go wrong, or is this a natural reaction from the squash due to its composition?

    • 81.1
      Marisa says:

      I’m so sorry, but I don’t know the answer to this question. I’ve not experienced this personally and I don’t have enough knowledge in the composition of winter squash to comment.

  32. 82
    Cindy says:

    I have seen canned pumpkin butter in stores……

    • 82.1
      Marisa says:

      It is not possible to can pumpkin butter at home. Commercial facilities have the ability to process at higher temperatures and pressures than is possible to achieve in a home kitchen, which is why they can produce and sell it.

  33. 83
    Holly says:

    Of course the owner of this site has to say it’s unsafe per regulations because it’s her job. However, I did a quick search and found the most recent (2011) CDC confirmed cases of food bourne botulism for the United States – 20 cases.

    I believe the old ways are good ways and our country is becoming overly skittish about everything. Heck, I think eating fast food is MUCH scarier than canning what our grandmothers canned.

    • 83.1
      Dom says:

      ***Need advice.***

      I just cut up my whole pumpkin into cubes. I then put it through my auger-style Samson juicer without extracting the juice. It yielded me just pumpkin pulp. I then took the pulp and placed in my Food Saver vacuum sealed bag, which removed all of the air. It was then immediately transferred into my fridge which is sitting at 36 degrees.

      My game plan was to open the bag, put it on the stove and boil/ simmer for about an hour along with my other ingredients…….citric acid, maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice. I was going to make like a pumpkin jam with it. It would then go back into the fridge in another vacuum sealer jar.

      Would this be ok to use and keep in the fridge for the next few weeks as a jam, or until Turkey Day next week.

      Any advice would be greatly appreciate.

  34. 84
    Dom says:

    I was in Sur La Table and caught this pumpkin butter from Stonewall Farms.

    http://www.surlatable.com/product/PRO-149807/Stonewall+Kitchen+Maple+Pumpkin+Butter

    It was soo good, that I figured I would take a crack at trying to recreate this recipe, esp. since I already have the freshly puréed pumpkin

  35. 85
    kali says:

    It’s so funny how controversial canning pumpkin is!!! And both sides are correct, this is isn’t a yes/no situation: you can get sick, but from a statistical standpoint, you’re more likely to get sick from contaminants in the industrialized food system like buying frozen fruit with hepatitis then you are from safely home canned pumpkin. Like raw milk, which can contain listeriosis, and therefore can be “dangerous”, it’s a personal choice. Yes, it’s an “at your own risk” situation, so folks like the USDA and their strict followers can’t ever say “o.k.” since they can’t have any question of botulism being possible. However, as many have said, Grandma never gave anyone botulism, and she canned pumpkin her whole like. So even if you can’t recommend it, once you give someone the facts, it’s up to them to decide wether or not it it might be safe. I mean, the USDA doesn’t suggest you stop eating at Jack in the Box. But I don’t. I will can my own dang pumpkin without fear, carefully, and test the ph since I’m smart and I know how. If you don’t feel confident about it, people will have no problem scaring you out of doing it. Watch how your chicken gets processed in China or a frozen food factory and you might not worry as much about botulism in home canned pumpkin products. Industry can have “allowable” amounts of trace contamination, but oh boy, doing it at home just isn’t as safe. I respect the well done research by Marisa and my local UC extension of Master Preservers, but I disagree with this bias. So once again something as simple as canned pumpkin involves food politics.

  36. 86
    Brittany says:

    Marisa you have the patience of Job. Home canning + Pumpkin Butter of any kind = Russian Roulette.

  37. 87
    Lori says:

    Completely agree. Didn’t have a recipe and used the same method as apple butter…..just opened a jar from the shelf whoooo the smell knocked me over. badbadbad. Don’t do IT! Resist the urge. Now all that work and I have to throw it out. Wish I had frozen it.

  38. 88

    […] *Note* It is NOT safe for canning. Pumpkin butter can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 weeks, but cannot be canned.  Read more here.* […]

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