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My spaghetti sauce (no meat) didnt seal last night. Can I freeze the sauce after it's been sitting about 12 hours instead of reprocessing? Thanks.

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All three of the canning books that I have on hand—the 1969 Kerr Home Canning Book, the 1973 Better Homes and Gardens Home Canning Cook Book, and the 1972 Southern Living Canning & Preserving Cookbook include a section on freezing; they all also cover what to do in case of a jar not sealing correctly.

The Kerr Home Canning Book covers it in their “Processing Foods” section (p. 50):

If a jar does not seal and must be reprocessed does it have to be reprocessed the original length of time?

Just what shall be done with the unsealed jar will depend on the cause. If cap or lid is at fault and food is a fruit, replace cap or lid with new one and process in water bath until fruit reaches boiling. This will be approximately the original processing time for the fruit. If food is a vegetable or meat, it should be reprocessed at least ⅓ the regular processing time. [Emphasized text underlined in original—Jerry.]

If jar is defective, any food will require repacking. The reprocessing time would need to be the same as the first processing given that particular food. This will lower the quality of the canned food.

Kerr does not have a recipe for spaghetti sauce in its freezer section, only for whole or chopped vegetables, for which it recommends against freezing tomatoes. This is unlikely to apply to spaghetti sauce, or people wouldn’t be able to freeze a lot of casseroles that people do freeze.

The Better Homes and Gardens Home Canning Cook Book does mention “meatballs with tomato sauce” in their “Freezing Prepared Foods” section (p. 91):

Cook till done; cool quickly. Ladle into jars or freezer containers, allowing 1-inch headspace. Seal, label, and freeze.

Storage time given is three months. “Cool quickly” is explained as “by placing the pan of cooked food in a sink of ice water”.

Better Homes and Gardens doesn’t have a separate recipe for freezable tomato sauce. It has a recipe for Basic Meatballs and a recipe for Tomato Sauce in its canning sections.

It also covers what to do when a jar fails to seal. (p. 16)

Any jar that has not sealed must be repacked and reprocessed with a new lid for the full length of time. If just one jar didn’t seal, refrigerate the food and serve it within a day or two.

This says two things: (a) it is reasonable to reprocess foods that don’t seal, and (b) it is also reasonable to just store them in the refrigerator without reprocessing. You should, then, be able to freeze them without reprocessing for some unspecified longer time.

Kerr is somewhat vague about when testing should occur. On page 4 and 5, you are to “Set jars upright 2 or 3 inches apart on several thicknesses of cloth, to cool. Do not set hot jars in a draft or on a cold, wet surface. Do not cover them.” On the facing page, you can test “when jar is cold”.

They do say (page 4):

Remove KERR Mason Screw Bands after 24 hours as bands are unnecessary once jars are sealed. [bolding in text]

However, it does not say to wait this long before testing. Only that the “jar is cold”.

Better Homes and Gardens is also somewhat vague about how long you wait to test the seal, just that they need “to cool” and that testing is performed “on a cooled jar” (p. 16). On page 10, it echoes the advice to remove the screw band “when the jar is completely cooled and sealed”. On page 14, next to a photo of jars being removed from a pot and being placed on a rack on the stove next to the pot, it reads:

When processing time is up, transfer hot jars to a rack to cool. Area should be draft-free with ample space to allow air to circulate around jars.

The Southern Living Canning & Preserving Cookbook also covers what to do in case of jars not sealing and is more specific about how long to wait to test (p. 10):

After processing, cool jars by setting them upright on a board, rack, or folded cloth—never on a cold surface. Place them far enough apart to allow air circulation. Don’t expose them to a cold draft, and do not cover them.

After about 12 hours, test jars for sealing. [methods for testing different kinds of lids removed] If a jar is imperfectly sealed, repack the food using a new lid and reprocess it for the full length of time. Or refrigerate the food and use it as soon as possible.

Again, it’s perfectly reasonable in their view to take the unsealed jar after testing the seal “after about 12 hours” of sitting on the counter and just put it in the refrigerator. (This does not apply to you, but while they repeat this advice generally throughout the book, they specifically warn against reprocessing seafood products that do not seal, p. 55.)

The “12 hours” of Southern Living and the “24 hours” of Kerr match what the National Center for Home Food Preservation (part of the USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service) says: “Cool the jars at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.”

It goes on to give the standard advice about reprocessing, concluding with “Foods in single unsealed jars could be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within several days.”

In summary, the general advice in all three of these sources, plus the USDA, for food from jars that do not seal is that they can and should be reprocessed for another attempt. (Note: I know you wrote “instead of reprocessing”, but I didn’t want to lose the context that comes with the advice these books give on refrigeration after jars fail to seal.) The one source that mentions a limit for freezing tomato sauce recommends no more than three months for storing tomato sauces put in the freezer immediately.

Two of these sources, plus the USDA, state unequivocally that jars which do not seal—especially if it’s only a single jar—are safe to use without reprocessing if refrigerated after testing the seal and finding it bad after the time necessary for the jars to cool—which appears to be up to 12 hours, and possibly up to 24 hours. “Refrigeration” should include freezing, though not necessarily for the three full months given by Better Homes and Gardens for tomato sauce frozen immediately after making.

There is no mention of what to do if a second attempt at sealing also fails, but since reprocessing does “lower the quality of the canned food” and because “seasonings may undergo considerable changes during freezing” (Southern Living Canning & Preserving Cookbook, p. 160), you’ll probably want to just refrigerate (or throw out) any foods that fail to seal the second time for flavor reasons alone.

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    This is good info. I'm missing a time frame from all these sources. Food in jars which did not seal is not shelf-stable, so without further special-case rules, it's considered only safe to keep on the counter for up to 4 hours. The OP kept it for 12. Is there something in these books to address how long time can pass between packing and "reprocessing still possible"?
    – rumtscho
    Aug 18, 2023 at 19:03

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