Canning season is almost here; will your heirloom canner be safe?

Charla Hammonds County Extension Agent – Family & Consumer Sciences

Canning season is right around the corner. Nothing is prettier than seeing a row of fresh canned vegetables sitting on the shelf of your pantry. It is a labor of love to spend the time and effort it takes to home can your produce. However, nothing tastes better than opening that jar of green beans on a cold winter’s night.

If you are a home canner, this is the time of year to get your equipment and supplies out and inspect them, so you are ready when the produce is. Proper equipment that’s in good condition is required for safe, high-quality home canned food. Before you begin this year’s canning season, you’ll want to take inventory of your canning supplies and make sure everything is in working order. This includes the pressure canner. Pressure canners are an initial investment. Since they can be expensive, many families pass down their canner to younger family members. Or you may find one, fairly inexpensive, at a garage sale and decide to pick it up. While there is definitely nothing wrong with that, it is important that the pressure canner be working properly. The only way to know that is to have it tested to ensure the safety of the food being processed.

Pressure canners for use in the home have been extensively redesigned in recent years. Models made before the 1970’s were heavy-walled kettles with clamp-on or turn-on lids fitted with dial-type gauges. A vent port, in the form of a petcock or counterweight, and a safety fuse were also present. Modern pressure canners are lightweight, thin-walled kettles and most have turn-on lids. They usually have a perforated metal rack or basket with handles, rubber gasket, a dial or weighted gauge, an automatic vent/cover lock, a vent port (steam vent) to be closed with a counterweight or weighted gauge, and a safety fuse.

As mentioned, there are two basic types of pressure canners, one has a metal weighted gauge and the other has a dial gauge to indicate the pressure inside the canner. It is important to have the dial gauge in pressure canners tested every year for accuracy. If you have a dial gauge pressure canner and want to make sure you are getting the safest product from your efforts, simply schedule a free test of your dial pressure gauge by calling the Logan County Extension office at 479-963-2360.

Pressure canning is the only recommended method for canning meat, poultry, seafood, and low-acid vegetables. If your pressure canner isn’t working properly, the foods in the jar can be under-processed, which even in a pressure canner, can increase the chance that botulism spores may still be present in the jars. When processed at the correct time and pressure, pressure canners destroy bacterium Clostridium Botulinum which can potential exist in low-acid foods.

A boiling water canner is another essential piece of canning equipment. These are used for canning foods such as fruits, pickles, jellies and jams. Water bath canners should contain a removable rack to keep jars from touching the bottom of the canner. They should also be deep enough to allow at least one or two inches of water to boil over the tops of the jars.

A must have for pressure or water bath canning foods, is reliable, up-to-date canning instructions/recipes. Grandmother’s favorite recipe may not be up to date with current safe canning recommendations. Sources for reliable information, in addition to the county Extension office, are the website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation and the most recently revised edition of the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. Both resources are available online. Current edition books and publications of major canning supplies are also reliable.

Planning ahead can save you time, money, and frustration with home canning. Make it a safe, happy, successful canning season by getting prepared before your harvest is ready.