Winter 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB1

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Changing Practices: A Caution


Carolyn A. Raab
Extension Foods and Nutrition Specialist
Oregon State University-Corvallis

Clientele use of recommended procedures is a priority for Extension. The introduction of new USDA home canning instructions in 1988 provided an opportunity to study the impact of Extension advice on clientele. I decided to focus on the canning of tomatoes, because of substantial recent changes in recommended procedures, such as new styles of pack and lengthened processing times.

In July 1988, the Oregon Extension Service published a new bulletin about tomato canning procedures, which was distributed free-of-charge by Oregon county Extension offices. About one-third of the counties in the state recorded names and telephone numbers of clientele who received the publication during August and September of that year - the peak months for tomato canning. From the 1,000 names provided, 229 individuals were randomly selected and contacted by telephone during October and November.

Usable interviews were obtained from 187 respondents. The majority of interviewees were females. Ages ranged either from "under 35" to "65 and older." Seventy percent of the participants had canned tomatoes for more than 10 years; nine percent had been canning tomatoes less than two years.

Data suggested the following factors for Extension consideration. Seventy percent of those contacted had canned plain tomatoes during the season. Of those, 78% had used the bulletin as the source for directions. Reasons for nonuse of the bulletin included skepticism about the merits of lengthened processing times and unwillingness to change from the "old" methods.

Following directions was also a noted factor. Not all respondents had followed the directions closely. Thirty-three percent reported following directions "somewhat closely," while three percent indicated "not closely at all." For example, 26% of the participants didn't add citric acid or lemon juice as instructed; 10% didn't process for the recommended time. Some weren't consistent in the methods used. A few reported mixing and matching the instructions with those from other information sources.

Of the few respondents who reported using the tomato-vegetable combination recipes (salsa), many had varied the recommended practices outlined in the bulletin. This included estimating quantities of vegetables without measuring, adding more vegetables, decreasing vinegar, and changing processing times.

At the time of the interview, 18% of the respondents weren't pleased with their home canned tomato product. Twenty-one percent hadn't yet evaluated it. Quality changes identified, such as floating and mushiness, were often associated with long processing times. This is a concern because 54% of the participants had chosen to use a style of pack (whole/halved, packed raw) that required the longest processing time.

These findings suggest that Extension professionals shouldn't assume clientele will adopt new home canning recommendations because they're promoted as "new" or "research-based." Some clientele from the present study apparently consider recommended methods to be optional rather than mandatory. Extension needs to provide help in recognizing that home canning is based on science, not creative art. Clientele dissatisfied with their products may be more likely to alter home canning recommendations. Therefore, Extension professionals must make sure that recommended research-based methods result in top quality products.