Why You Should Store Your Jars Without Their Rings

broken seal

Whenever I teach a canning class, I always mention the fact that it’s important to remove the rings from your jars before you put them away. You see, those rings are only necessary to hold the lids in place during processing and then again when you open the jar to use the contents.

There are two really good reasons why the rings should be stored separately from the jars. The first is that they last longer when they are removed, washed, dried, and stashed in a plastic bag (they have a tendency to rust if not stored properly).

The second reason is that if the contents of the jar happen to spoil (though it happens rarely, it does happen), you’ll know more immediately. That’s because when things spoil, it typically happens because there’s some sort of bacterial growth that off-gasses. That creates pressure which eventually breaks the seal.

a jar that broke its seal

The reason I’m writing about this topic today? It’s because this tip that I’ve shared so many times in canning classes actually proved useful in my own canning life yesterday. I was in my hall coat closet (one of the spaces that doubles as my pantry in this small apartment of mine) to get some whole peeled tomatoes. I picked up the jar and the lid slid right off onto the flour.

I stared at it for a moment, unbelieving that one of my precious jars had gone bad, but then felt so grateful to have followed my own advice. If the ring had been on the jar, I truly might not have known that the seal was no good. I walked those tomatoes over to the garbage disposal and sent them on to a watery grave (they actually smelled fine, but I take no chances).

So, if you’re storing your jars with the rings still on, do yourself a favor and go pull them off. Your future self may thank you.

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74 Responses to Why You Should Store Your Jars Without Their Rings

  1. 1
    Eliza says:

    I don’t can, so this question may sound stupid to those who do. If you take the ring off before storing, wouldn’t the seal be broken? I imagine that twisting the ring to remove it would be the same as opening the jar.

    • 1.1
      Marisa says:

      The lid and ring are two independent pieces. They are designed so that the rings can be removed after the jars are sealed. I promise, it does not damage the seal to remove the ring.

    • 1.2
      Frank says:

      It’s the vacuum created in the canning process (and the wax seal) that hold the lid on the jar. If the vacuum is replaced by gasses when the food spoils, the lid will come off very easily.
      It’s the same idea as the ‘pop up’ button found on the lid of many store bought products. If the button in the center of the lid has popped up, don’t buy it.

    • 1.3
      Reena Cook says:

      No, it your jar is sealed properly, it will be tight and just removing the ring won’t remove it.

  2. 2
    Lisa says:

    This is good advice. I opened a jar of pickles last week, & eagerly took a bite of one. Just as I swallowed the bite, I glanced down at the underside of the lid and noticed it was all brown and nasty looking. Of the horrors. I attempted to expel the bite of pickle but no luck. I too sent the contents down the garbage disposal and hoped for the best. I informed my Family to watch me for signs of botulism!! But I have survived! So yes, remove the rings!

    • 2.1
      Marisa says:

      Remember, botulism cannot grow in high acid environments, so there’s no chance of it developing in your pickles. What’s more, if the seal of the jar is good, the pickles were probably fine. Sometimes the acid in the jar can discolor and rust the lid.

      • Lynda C says:

        I have seen many jars with brown marks and I assure you the contains were as good as the day I put them up. I have see High acid type contents do that. I keep a box of new lids in my kitchen drawer to replace bent lids (this happened after the seal was broken upon opening because one of the kids opened the jar and bent it). Or it was browned because of pickles especially dill. We have eaten contents and after the 40 yrs I have been canning NO ONE had gotten even a stomach ache.

      • tk says:

        Yes, thank you. People really should learn science before going nuts with worry about canned goods. There are myriad reasons why canned goods discolor and it is a rare instance indeed that anyone gets botulism from anything homemade.

    • 2.2
      Aimee says:

      Please consider not using your garbage disposal – they are terrible for the environment. http://www.treehugger.com/kitchen-design/is-my-in-sink-garbage-disposal-eco-friendly.html

      • Lynda C says:

        Amiee: I agree. I was going to make a comment to that practice. Garbage disposals seem like a good idea. But imagine the contents of your plumbing and what goes into the sewer drains. It really is bad for our environment.

        • Betty says:

          Uh … vegetable peelings are not good for our environment??? Really?? LOL

          • Marisa says:

            I understand that garbage disposals aren’t the best. However, living in a high rise apartment, it’s really my only option when I have something really juicy that needs to be dumped.

        • Annonymous says:

          it’s gonna end up in the sewer, if you eat it or not…..just wreaks havoc on the plumbing in your house.

          • Patrick says:

            And you can put it into a work composite bin under your sink or on your ledge.

          • Marisa says:

            Again, it’s just not possible for me to compost in a high rise apartment building. What’s more, my building’s management actually request that we put juicy foods down the disposal as opposed to in the garbage (as that’s the only other option).

  3. 3

    […] Marisa McLellan of the excellent Food in Jars blog, has great advice on how to store your jars. […]

  4. 4
    Roze says:

    I worked in food service professionally for years and took a safety & sanitation class. One of the things that always made me worry about canning was learning that botulism (which comes mainly from home-canned goods) can be deadly or the effects are long-term and can have lasting effects.

    Food poisoning was considered an outbreak when 2 or more people became ill, but for botulism, only one person needs to become ill for it to be considered an outbreak.

    I am notorious for being extra careful with this stuff and love the refresher course! Thanks!

  5. 5
    Susan says:

    I have always left the rings on and never knew why people took them off. I do always check to make sure it is sealed before I use it. Thanks for the info.

  6. 6
    kat says:

    The other reason for leaving rings off, as I’ve read, is because some jars that have lost their seal may actually reseal themselves sometime later, thereby locking in the new contaminants. The unsuspecting person then later opens the jar, and I guess depending on many factors might not know this has happened and eats the goods.
    I sure hope more people read this as it seems to many folks I’ve talked to that it doesn’t make sense to leave rings off. (in my experience if something is not understood, it’s usually ignored!)

    • 6.1
      Marisa says:

      That’s interesting. I’ve never heard of that happening before, but I guess it could occur very occasionally if the jars were stored in a very warm place. It would be hard for a vacuum to reform spontaneously, though.

      • Wendy says:

        I made apple butter last weekend and they did not seal. I reprocessed them in the water bath. After resting on the counter overnight the lids were not pressed in as they would be if they had sealed so I put them in the refrigerator. When retrieved one from the fridge it appeared to have sealed so I removed the rings and checked them all. Some had formed a seal but it was a seal that was easily broken. I always remove the rings and test the seal.

    • 6.2
      jess says:

      yep..i opened a jar of jam…a couple of days later the lid was acting as if it was sealed..had to pry it off. So i agree..this can happen..and if i didnt know any better i would of thought it was never opened up

  7. 7
    Teresa says:

    My grandmother always washed and dried the jars and rings, then put the rings back on. I have always done it your way. That way I don’t need to own very many rings!

    • 7.1
      Philbug says:

      Exactly. If you can a great deal, you don’t need as many rings if you take them off. As mentioned, they can also rust if you leave them on, which is another fun thing no one needs to deal with.

  8. 8
    Judy Pedigo says:

    Really important point! I remove the rings, then set the jars in a dishpan of water (not up to their lids) and give them a quick bath to remove goo that may have leaked onto their threads. That sticky stuff frequently grows mold, etc., which sometimes dries out, becoming less noticeable when you open your jar and could get into your product when you pour it out. It’s just a possibility, but I’m not fond of eating goo-mold. I think that sometimes that goo-mold can also eat into your seal, but that’s just a suspicion–no fact. Anyway, if you don’t take care of your rings, you’ll get through just a few years and find that your rings are significantly rusty and impossible to use–and you might be harboring unwelcome molds, etc., as well.

  9. 9
    Judy Pedigo says:

    One more thing–your jars usually stack better without the rings.

  10. 10
    Melanie G says:

    I’ve always done this, too, but in the last year or so I’ve switched to primarily Tattler reusable lids, and I find that sometimes when I’m removing the rings, the act of removal breaks the seal. So I’ve started just taking the rings off that actually come easily, but it makes me wonder. Do you have any experience or thoughts about that?

    • 10.1
      Marisa says:

      Removing the ring really shouldn’t break the seal. That would be an indication to me that the seal was not strong enough.

  11. 11
    Cat says:

    Thanks for sharing! I learned this but then couldn’t remember when my husband and sister asked me recently. My sister has always left her rings on so I sent her this post.

    I was also told at one point that it was OK to stack the sealed jars, but this would seem to indicate that that’s not a good idea. Or is the weight of the top jar not enough to hold the lid of the bottom jar on, even if the seal is broken? Right now I have a tray of quarts on top of another tray of quarts to save space.

    • 11.1
      Kristina says:

      I have recently wondered the same thing! I stack mine because I have tall shelves, but they aren’t very deep. If I didn’t stack, I’d have jars everywhere. Would love to know what others think about this and if they have experience with it!

  12. 12
    mary beth says:

    This is the weekend that I am cleaning and reorganizing my pantry in the basement. It is an annual thing . . . .its one of those places at the bottom of the basement stairs where “weird stuff” ends up all year long. My canned goods are stacked in boxes awaiting their proper places and for the most part I am pretty much done for the year . . . .until spring. Think I will use this opportunity to remove all the rings . . .and clean them up. I do like to use them when giving something away – but otherwise they are essentially useless on the shelf. thanks for the motivation to do so :)

  13. 13
    Pirate Jeni says:

    I used to be a “leave the rings on” kind of gal.. only because I liked the look.. then I saw a video on youtube of this couple opening a few jars of improperly prepared and canned “veggie spread”…

    oh.
    my.
    It was like a veggie volcano…
    I immediately went and took all the rings off my jars.

  14. 14

    Excellent canning advice that often gets overlooked! It also ensures the rings don’t rust onto the lids and threaten the seal. I also make sure to wash my jars of canned goods before storage…

  15. 15
    Christine says:

    I’ve usually left the rings on since I frequently gift my jars (and cut cute fabric toppers to place between the ring and jar later), but this is really good advice. If I’m going to be removing and replacing rings anyway, I might as well store them with the rings off and add them again later before gifting – and I’ll be doubly-sure that the contents are still good before I give them away.

  16. 16

    I just unearthed 3 jars of spicy dilly beans that have been aging. One of them has the ring, and I promptly removed it to check the seal The others are Weck jars with the glass top and rubber seal which is down as it should be. I would guess pickled veg with an abundant amount of cayenne should be fine after say…2 years?

    • 16.1
      mary w says:

      Not Marissa, but…from a safety point of view you Dilly Beans will be fine. I find with pickled things they get less crisp over time.

  17. 17
    CathyC says:

    I sometimes take the rings off (mostly so that I have some ready to go for my next project) but I never knew I was supposed to store them in a plastic bag! That explains why some of them are rusting. Now I’ll be more diligent about removing all the rings and storing them properly. Looking forward to your canning workshop this weekend at the Rowe Center!

  18. 18

    Can you explain what is the jar’s ring again please? I’m not able to fully capture what you’re talking about and I’d really like to understand because I’m beginning a juice feast and this would be very beneficial.

    • 18.1
      Marisa says:

      The ring (or the band) is the piece of metal that holds down the lid. There’s the flat lid that comes in contact with the jar and a the ring holds that lid in place.

  19. 19
    Jenny.U says:

    Stacking is the same as leaving the rings on. They can re seal, do not stack jars.

  20. 20

    This is good to know! I have always taken the rings off the “food” — applesauce, peaches, whatever, because that’s what my mom did. And I always left the rings on the jelly jars — because they looked pretty. And it’s a pain to find someplace to store all those rings!
    What you say makes complete sense, though!
    *…goes off to take rings off two bazillion jelly jars…*

  21. 21
    Paulette Hatfield says:

    Thanks for the advice! I do have a question though about what types of foods you really need to worry about. I mostly can jams chutneys etc. Some pickles too, but I’m always afraid of the cans spoiling and I won’t be able to tell. Are their some foods more likely to get contaminated? Is there a table or website with that sort of information? Thanks I appreciate. I am a relatively new to canning and don’t want to sicken a family with bad food! :-)

  22. 22
    Catherine says:

    I would also mention that if you suspect botulism the USDA recommends that you should place the whole jar and its contents in another bag, seal the bag, and discard the whole thing. That way you don’t contaminate anything with the toxin.

  23. 23
    Deb says:

    Thank you for the advice. I will be removing my rings Pronto!!!
    Keep up the good work :)

  24. 24
    Sheila says:

    Question! I made a batch of zucchini pickles this summer, and noticed that after settling, two of the jars have pickles that are not totally covered by the brine. They’re king of peeking out above the liquid. I know the seal is fine, but the fact that they’re not 100% covered by brine makes me nervous. Should I toss them? Thanks for any help!!

  25. 25
    Melanie G says:

    I’ve always done this too, but in the last couple of years I’ve started using almost exclusively the Tattler reusable lids. I find that often, after processing and cooling, when I remove the rings, that action can cause sealed jars to unseal. So I’ve started only taking off the rings that are already a little bit loose. Any thoughts about that?

    • 25.1
      Kristina says:

      If taking off the rings causes the Tattler lids to “unseal” then you probably didn’t have a good seal in the first place.

      I’ve used Tattler lids for several years with good results. Just follow their new rules for canning with them. After you take the jar out of the canner and tighten the lid, let it cool completely. I don’t have more seals fail with the Tattler than I did with the disposable lids, but I’m not the most experienced home canner. I’d be curious to hear what Marissa says.

  26. 26
    Ellen says:

    A quick, related question: Yesterday I made 2 qts and a pint of red cabbage and apple relish. Processed the recommended 15 minutes and set the jars to cool on a wire wrack. Heard the “pop” from all 3 jars, but this morning noticed sticky messes under the jars and sticky trails down the sides (I did leave the recommended 1/2″ head space…). So- do I store on the shelf, re-process, or put in the fridge? It’s a brine with 1 cider vinegar:1 water:1 sugar. Thanks.

  27. 27
    Howard says:

    I always follow these steps when opening a jar.

    1. Try to remove the lid with fingers. If I can do so, I discard contents.

    2. Click on lid with edge of fingernail, a fork, etc. A good seal has a sharp, metallic sound; a bad seal sounds like a dull thud. If it sounds bad, I discard contents. (I’m not sure about how the Tattler lids sound; I’ve never used them.)

    3. I listen closely for the hiss of air rushing in when I pry up the lid with the can opener. If it doesn’t hiss, I discard contents.

    4. Sniff the jar. If it doesn’t smell like it should, I discard contents.

    5. Look for anything weird in the jar or on the lid. If I suspect it, I dump it.

    And always, always, I follow the USDA guidelines for the food I am canning. I know people who NEVER sterilize jars, NEVER acidify tomato products, NEVER water bath (they just do “open kettle”). If I say anything, I get the retort “I learned this from my Mom (Grandma, or whoever), this is the way we always did it, nobody ever got sick, etc., etc., etc.”

    This gives me the willies. It only takes once.

    • 27.1
      Judy says:

      Howard, In this day and age, big business/government, etc. has convinced us that we, as the little people, are not capable of taking care of ourselves. We are not even capable of feeding ourselves and our families. Big business and government are so much more capable; see what a great job they are doing. I am one of those old women who say, “I’ve been doing this for 40 years and haven’t killed anyone yet. My family is strong and healthy and well fed.” I do not sterilize jars that are going to be processed for 15 minutes or more. The processing (boiling water for 15 minutes or more) does it for me. A simple hot-water-and-soap washing and hot rinse, drain on very clean drainboard or towel, suffices. I never acidify tomatoes. However, since the USDA started warning about the ‘sweet’ tomatoes being bred, I do check every year or every time I get some tomatoes from a different field, different variety, are dead ripe, well, just about every batch of tomatoes. It’s so easy, why not? I’ve never had a tomato even close. For me, Romas run a little closer than slicing tomatoes, but that could just be the variety of roma. For people who are so scared of providing for themselves, I suggest a better understanding of botulism, its ways and wherefores. Then get on with your life–its a gas.

      • Cheryl says:

        What exactly does “acidify tomatoes” mean?

        • Cheryl says:

          Nevermind, I figured it out…adding lemon juice.

        • Judy says:

          To ‘acidify tomatoes’ means to make the tomato mixture (when hot packing tomatoes you have a soupy mix of cooked tomato and tomato juice) more acidic. As you well know, all of our food, water, our bodies, etc., are more or less acidic. We measure that acidity (or lack of acidity) on a scale from 0 or 1 to 14. I’m kind of sketchy here, but the gist is that botulism spores (which are everywhere) can only create the botulism toxin (very poisonous) in an environment with no oxygen (those lovely vacuum sealed jars we pride ourselves on), and in an environment that’s level of acidity is above 4.6 (on that pH scale of 0 (or 1) to 14). Thus, if the acidity of your product is below 4.6 (and I like to get it down around 4.4 just to be extra-careful), you really don’t have to worry.

          Used to, nobody worried about botulism in tomatoes, because all tomatoes were good and acid and presented and environment that thwarted botulism naturally. However, in the late ’60s, tomato breeders started coming out with ‘sweeter’ tomatoes that the public really took to. ‘Jet Star’ was the first really big one, I believe. Problem was: those ‘sweet’ tomatoes sometimes registered very close to (and sometimes over) the 4.6 limit. At that point, the USDA started warning home canners of the danger and recommending that they ‘acidify’ all tomatoes that are to be water-bathed by adding two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each quart of tomato product to be canned. I believe they still do.

          Another option which the USDA does not mention but the FDA and common sense presents is to check the acidity of your tomatoes right before you fill your jars. There are expensive meters ($50-$60) that you can buy to accomplish that check, or you can use inexpensive test paper ($8). I find the test papers work well for me. I don’t push the limits. The only tomatoes that I have ever had get dangerously close to the pH 4.6 were super-ripe pink tomatoes. I totally agree with the USDA that there are plenty of tomatoes out there that are not safe to can without further acidification. I’m just saying that you don’t have to assume that your tomatoes are dangerous and add that two tablespoons of lemon juice. (Some people hate the taste of their lemon-juiced tomatoes, and some people don’t taste it at all.) You have another option–you can actually test each batch of tomatoes (less than a nickel per test) just before jarring them. If they register 4.4 or higher, you can acidify your tomatoes (add that 2T of lemon juice) at that time.

  28. 28
    Deana says:

    This is my first year canning. Doing all the wonderful apples in our yard. Made some apple sauce, but don’t want a cabinet full of it. Yes I can make apple pie filling, but don’t want a lot of that either. We like fried apples, so I decided to cook them until the juices released from the apples in the frying pan along with the butter, brown sugar and spices. I had a lot of juice and was able to fill up 5 quarts with these semi-soft half cooked apples. When pouring the last of the juice mixture evenly in each quart it only (with juice) filled up 2/3 rds of the jar, leaving 1/3rd of the jar at the top with apple slices that, although were soft and soaked in the butter/sugar mixture, were not completely immersed like tomatoes are when you can them. Is that okay? Not sure why I am worried, it just seems like I’ve always seen things that are canned, completely in water? beans ect…. Also, I would love to not put all that sugar or anything really, and just be able to can the apple so that I can open it and use my apples for whatever I want later. Can I do that or should I just find a way to freeze them? I would really like to can because I would lik,e to give a way as gifts for the holidays. :) thank you

  29. 29
    Yoda says:

    VITAL information. Not only what you posted, but sometimes when a seal is broken and the food spoils, the lid MAY reseal itself due to the spoilage, and you wouldn’t know it when you took off the ring. Removing the ring prevents this. Like you said, NEVER store with the ring still on your jar!! I am unfamiliar with the Tattler lids.

  30. 30
    AF says:

    Glad you caught the spoiled tomatoes and shared this so we can follow your advice. But next time, you should compost the tomatoes rather than putting them down the drain.

    • 30.1
      Marisa says:

      I live in an apartment and unfortunately don’t have any opportunity to compost.

    • 30.2
      Judy says:

      I think she threw out the tomatoes because she believed their seal had failed and she feared bacteria or botulism contamination. In that case, it would have been exceedingly dangerous to try to compost the tomatoes. Very bad idea! When I have a seal that fails from who-knows-what, I take extreme care with the jar and the contents. I actually bury the contents 18-24 inches deep to keep any critters from getting into the mess. There is no way I would trust composting to decontaminate botulism.

  31. 31
    Linda says:

    Love your site. Had lots of info I can relate to since I am a canner as well. I agree, no rings and do not stack jars on top of each other. I will be canning more of my natural garden foods in the future since it seems that buying them is getting more expensive these days. Plus it is much healthier for you. It’s funny how canning seems to come back in popularity about every 10/15 years :-)
    Keep up the great work on your site.
    Thanks

  32. 32

    I have seen this topic discussed often on Facebook. Many people do not want to take the rings off. I always have removed the rings. In the beginning, it was due to the cost of the rings. Then I did it so I could store the jars and not have them rust to the jar. That is when they are tough to remove. It is like you said, a good way to know in advance that there is something amiss with that particular batch that was canned together.

    Excellent post!

  33. 33
    Patrick says:

    Please don’t dump food down the garbage disposal !

    Please compost!

  34. 34
    Patrick says:

    And what about those plastic lids?

  35. 35
    Amy Freeman Rosa says:

    Great advice! I do have a suggestion…the contents of the jar of tomatoes should have gone into the compost pile or bin instead of going down the garbage disposal. Composting is so important in building your soils so you can grow more beautiful tomatoes to eat and preserve for later. Also, by composting your food scraps (veggies and fruits) they are not going to “waste” at the waste water treatment facility, landfill or other means of disposal with no afterlife such as soil amendmending.

    • 35.1
      Katie says:

      Clostridium botulinum lives forever in a composting environment, and then if you actually use that beautiful compost in your garden it will happily live there too. Actually, this is one of the best ways to get botulism into your food. (It only produces the toxins in an anaerobic environment, such as a canning jar, which is why the average gardener isn’t dying of botulism everyday.) If she suspected something funny in her jar of canned goods, composting it would be the last thing she would want to do–even if she were a devout composter.

  36. 36
    Kristina says:

    I know botulism has no smell or taste, so how do you know if your canned food is contaminated? It’s honestly my greatest fear in home canning! I’m relatively new, only been canning for about 4 years, and always high acid stuff in a water bath canner (I haven’t tried my pressure canner yet!).

    I’ve been stacking my jars (without the ring) in their original boxes to save on space. I won’t be doing that anymore! Actually just bought some shelves from the Container Store to organize the pantry. I’ve had a few seals feel very loose and I told hubby to just toss em. I’ve only seen one seal completely fail and it happened to be at the front of one of the boxes (with nothing on top). It had molded on the top. So it appears that I’ve had jars re-seal from the pressure of other jars on top. Common sense and intuition told me not to trust a seal that doesn’t break your fingernails to get off :)

  37. 37
    Kelty Garbee says:

    I read this story. The next day I recounted it to a non-canning friend. I got a jar (with a rink) out of the cabinet. It was jam that I had purchased from a local producer. I demonstrated how removing the ring lets you see into the jar. Ironically, I also found that the jar was not sealed, the ring slid off, and there was mold in my much-anticipated jam. Moral of my comment – you are completely correct and I learned your lesson through experience.

  38. 38
    Phyllis Winn says:

    I wash my jars about 24 hours after they are canned. I always take the rings off, If they are stuck I just put the wash water on top and let the jars soak while wash others. I keep my rings on an opened coat hanger. Different hangers for different sizes.

  39. 39

    […] slightly obscured when you put a band on. Since I know all you smart doobies are storing your jars without the bands, that shouldn’t be an […]

  40. 40
    Judy Messex says:

    Would you put “spoiled” food down the disposal without realizing you may be putting botulism into the water supply? Please put the jar plus food into a Baggie, seal it and put in the garbage or take it to a hazardous recycle place.

    • 40.1
      Marisa says:

      Botulism can only grow in low acid environments, so it is only a risk if a jar of pressure canned preserves go bad. The rest really can go into the trash or down the garbage disposal.

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