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Got apples? Here’s how to preserve them safely.

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Many apple varieties grown in Wisconsin ripen in early to mid-October, so orchards around the state are bursting with fruit ready to be picked. These apples can be eaten fresh or baked into pies, but there are also options for individuals looking to preserve the fall bounty well past winter, says University of Wisconsin-Extension food safety specialist Barbara Ingham.

Apples lend themselves very well to canning, drying and freezing, according to Ingham. And while each preserving method has different safety concerns, there are some general guidelines for selecting apples to preserve. “It is important to take special care in choosing late season produce,” Ingham says. “Fruits and vegetables that become overripe and soft should not be used for canning, freezing or drying.” Apples allowed to ripen on the tree will be the sweetest. Using damaged fruit or apples that have fallen to the ground (drops) is not recommended. Overripe or damaged fruit may have lower levels of acid, allowing pathogens to gain a foothold. Similarly, apples that have fallen to the ground may have become contaminated with animal waste and may carry harmful bacteria.

Many light-colored fruits like apples also darken very quickly when peeled; antioxidant treatments like ascorbic acid, vitamin C, can help prevent a color change, no matter how the apples are preserved. “Ascorbic acid can be sprinkled on to fruit, mixed with water to create a dip or added to the fruit juice or syrup that frozen or canned apples will be packed in,” Ingham says.

Home-drying apples can be done in a dehydrator or the oven. It is important that dried fruits be cut into even pieces. Apples can be sliced in rings, wedges or chips, with the core removed, and when placed on trays to dry, they should be evenly spaced with no pieces touching. Drying apples can be a lengthy process: “It can take between 12 and 24 hours in the oven at a very low temperature (125 degrees F),” Ingham says. Because of the lengthy time in the oven, a commercial dehydrator is often an excellent choice for drying fruit. Choose a dehydrator with a heater and fan strong enough to dry fruit efficiently. Set the dehydrator to 125 degrees F and allow apples to dry until they are flexible and no longer sticky.

When canning and freezing apples, it is important to use the correct equipment and make sure heated foods reach the right temperature. “Use rigid freezer containers of plastic, glass or wax-coated paper to prevent freezer burn and keep frozen fruits safe,” Ingham says.

Ingham recommends using current, research-tested recipes for all home food preservation. “Just because a recipe is in print, doesn’t mean it’s safe for you and your family,” she says. “Canning recommendations have changed dramatically over the last 15 years, so if you are using recipes that date before 1994, then it’s a good idea to set those aside and find an up-to-date recipe that has been tested for safety.” It is also important to make sure all equipment used in home food preservation, such as boiling water or pressure canners and electric dehydrators, is in good working order.

More information on drying apples is available here: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/uga_dry_fruit.pdf. Cooperative Extension Publishing also has several publications on canning and freezing fruits, including apples, online at online http://www.foodsafety.wisc.edu/preservation.html or for purchase athttp://learningstore.uwex.edu/. For specific home food preservation questions, contact your county Cooperative Extension office: http://yourcountyextensionoffice.org.