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Food / Water

Retort Canning – A New Way to Can?

The other day I mentioned that I’d run across a thread that mentioned retort canning. Since this seemed like something new, I was intrigued. After all, I’ve obviously heard of water bath canning and pressure canning, why not retort canning?

So, I quickly looked it up. I found out that retort canning is the same idea as pressure canning (uses high heat and pressure to kill bacteria) except that instead of using glass mason jars you would use special flexible retort pouches (similar to mylar bags). In fact, the flexible pouches of foods you buy at the grocery store (like tuna) are retort bags. I had no idea!

Is this the way to go or not?

Well, it starts with knowing that you need some different equipment. Like I said, instead of using mason jars, you would use special retort pouches (NOT mylar bags). I did an Amazon search but didn’t find any pouches being sold–that’s never a good sign–but easily found some via a Google search. I found a site that sold 50 8-ounce bags for about $23 or 50 4-ounce bags for $15. That’s a bit steep for me, especially considering that 4- or 8 ounces isn’t much food! Here’s what they look like:

retort-pouches

I then wondered what kind of device I needed to do retort canning so I Googled “retort canner” and I was almost floored by the costs. All results came up as “vacuum sealer packer retort” canners and sold for thousands of dollars… eek. 🙁 Anyway, they appear to be an autoclave device. Here’s what one looks like (pretty huh?):

retort-canner

I figured there had to be a better way and found this site that says I can use a traditional pressure canner. The problem is that you not only (1) need the specialized retort pouches BUT you also (2) need a special package sealer that can produce 1/2″ seams. As a result, your traditional foodsaver just isn’t going to cut it. Apparently, you need a specialized heat strip sealer (I assume it would work on mylar bags too but didn’t care to find out) that’s going to cost upwards of $100 or more. Here’s what it looks like:

hot-jaw

What’s the conclusion?

Yes, you can do it but you’re going to need some special equipment and from a cost perspective, it’s simply not something I would suggest. We’ll stick with what we know.

By Damian Brindle

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12 replies on “Retort Canning – A New Way to Can?”

This information is very helpful. Thank you for sharing. Where would someone get the equipment needed to process in the pouches? Does anyone know if there are processing authorities that check a recipe made in a pouch for its shelf stability. I have a product in a jar that I used the Cornell Processing Authority to check my recipe but they do not do pouches.

You have to purchase the pouches specifically for retort. In the food industry you must have a certification called better processing school. Many universities hold this class for a cost. If you go to TechniCal process authority in Louisiana they will do pouches for you and give you a process letter. 21 CFR 113 and 114 for LACF and acidified foods. You must also register your product if being sold for retail.

Back in the ’80s I had taken several food safety courses where we made canned, dried, frozen, and fermented foods. We used glass jars for the fruit and vegetable and we packed the beef stew in cans. We used the same retort equipment for the jars and cans similar to here: https://www.meatsandsausages.com/canning-equipment/canners-pressure-retorts and so you can see that the term ‘retort’ has been around long before the new flexible packaging.

Hi. Your site has a lot of PageRank and as such shows up very highly on searches for ‘retort canning’. Unfortunately, you really have no idea what you’re talking about, not only professing ignorance (understandable) but also explaining from that ignorance in a way that is actively misleading as well. Please let me help these people by correcting you and providing the information you were not able to fully assemble.

First, let me correct an error. The large device pictured is not an “autoclave”. It’s just a chamber vacuum sealer. It does not do heat. You have to do the heat separately. The purpose of the device is simply to removes the air from the chamber. The chamber is on the top of the device, with a thick thick lid on top. A bag containing food sits in the chamber as the air is removed from the chamber around the bag, and its own air escapes as well. The device then activates a sealing bar to seal the bag, after which it lets the air back into the chamber. Then the plastic scrunches up against the food inside the bag.

In summary, it’s exactly like the FoodSaver you are familiar with, except (a) you can seal liquid things like soups in the bags too, because there won’t be any pressure to such them out of the bag until after the bag is sealed, (b) while a typical FoodSaver bag you make from a roll of corrugated plastic costs about $0.50-$1, this device will use bags that cost closer to $0.03-$0.10.

Next, retort canning. Retort pouches will be more expensive, closer to $0.10-$0.50, depending on size, and the savings on the plastic is of course offset by a $500-$2000 price for the device itself. The ones which are actually rated for retort canning are the $2000 end. Some people report that lesser devices work just fine. You can find the pouches on Amazon inconsistently, but you can find them on the Internet at large quite easily.

The idea of retort canning itself is to remove all the air from the container. Commercially, this is done by filling a large chamber with steam and then cooling the steam, creating a vacuum. The chamber vacuum machine above is an alternative way of creating the vacuum. The commercial version of the process also cooks the food at the same time; your home process will see the food cooked in a pressure cooker instead, much as if you were doing regular canning, except with the vacuumed pouch instead of a mason jar. (This is why you can’t use your FoodSaver corrugated plastic.)

Be aware that, aside from the up-front expense, the devices in question are physically huge and quite heavy. Consider carefully where you’d like to place it.

Very good response. I have found that my chamber-style vacuum sealer holds food much better than mesh style bags. No freezer burn or ice crystals.

I initially started with a vacmaster and have added a Sammic to my repertoire. I am now canning a lot of tuna and meats each season. I pressure can it when I am done vacuum sealing it. I can store the same amount of product in a LOT less space. I don’t have to worry about breakage and if I were in a SHTF situation, moving that food without the weight of the jars will matter.

This is correct. I think some education is needed on her part. You need to employ a process authority. You don’t want to create a microbiological disaster. you only need to retort for pH of above 4.6. REad the regulation. Theres a lot to canning.

I’d be very interested in learning more about using the combination of heat strip sealer with retort bags in place of traditional canning in jars. I love the idea of not having to store jars, and doing away with all the extra weight of the glass (not to mention retort bags don’t break like glass).

How do you suppose you deal with the sterilization process when using bags? Is it not necessary to vacuum seal the bags as the $1,000+ machines do before retort processing? And how does one determine when a pouch has failed? No jar ping on a bag… would really love hearing more about this pairing of new products, who uses it and what their experience has been.

Since the pouches are sealed under vacuum, you known you have failure when the bag is lose on the food or there is food outside the bag. Just like with jars, those are you “eaters” and don’t go into storage but dinner tonight!

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