Your preserved food is only as sanitary as the vessels you put it into. An important step that must not be overlooked is sanitizing and preparing the jars, lids and rings. There are several methods for this.
The Dishwasher Method
If you have a dishwasher, this is easy. Just run it on the sanitizing cycle right before you begin canning. The dishwasher will keep the jars hot until you are ready to fill them. The heat from the dishwasher will also make the rubber on the jar flat more pliable and ready to seal.
The Water Bath Canner Method
Assuming that your jars are clean and all you need to do is sterilize them, you can use your water bath canner for this. Place the jars in the canner, on the rack. Pour in enough water that it goes over the opening of the jars and fills them. Bring the canner to a boil and allow it to boil for 10 minutes. Then use your jar lifter and remove the jars, placing them upside down on a towel or drying rack to drain. Reuse the hot water for canning once the jars are filled and lidded.
The Oven Method
You can also use your oven to sterilize your jars. Preheat your oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Place your jars in a roasting pan and slide them into the oven for at least 20 minutes. At that point, you can turn off the heat, but leave the jars in there until they are ready to be packed. Warning: (this is kind of a “duh” but I’ll say it anyway!) The jars will be hotter than heck when you take them out of the oven – take care not to burn yourself when filling them and placing them in the canner!
Sanitizing the Lids
In a small saucepan, bring to a simmer enough water to cover your flats and rings. Do not bring the flats to a rolling boil, as this could damage the sealing compound. Keep the lids in the hot water and remove them with sterilized tongs or a lid lifter (a cool little magnetic wand) when you are ready to put them on the jars.
Sometimes all of the canning rules sound overwhelming! Please don't let them scare you. I'm providing you with the best practices so that you have all the information you need.
Keep in mind that you are not performing open heart surgery. Nearly all canning recipes have to be processed for more than 10 minutes, which, in conjunction with the pre-sterilization you have performed, should help you to keep your food safe and healthy.