Learning how to can food (Six Dollar Family) was something that had been on my bucket list for years before I actually did it. I’ll be honest and tell you that the possibility of blowing up my kitchen was something that terrified me, but I wanted to be able to put up good quality, nutritious food for my family and to do so in a way that would help my family if my income were to drop significantly or if something else were to happen. I’m glad I did learn tho because it wasn’t too long after that my family had to rely on that food that I had canned in order to survive. What I’ve discovered since I learned how to can foods at home was that it isn’t as scary as it can sometimes be made out to be. In fact, it’s a pretty seamless process if you learn to follow a few simple canning safety tips each time that you go to process jars.
Canning is one of those things that can seem a mystery if you’re not used to it. In fact, it took me forever to just figure out what basic canning items and the basic canning safety tips that I needed to know and to have on hand. Teaching yourself a skill without someone to guide you is hard and canning was one of the hardest for me. It scared me and because of that, I put it off for as long as possible and made sure I was as careful as possible. Which brings us to this list of canning safety tips that you should know before you start canning!
Canning Safety Tips You Should Know
Luckily, most of these canning safety tips are common sense, but they’re easy to forget if you’re new to home canning foods. If you follow these canning safety tips, you’ll be able to put up delicious food for your family for cold weather or unexpected hard times. As I said earlier, this is one skill that I’m so grateful that I took the time to learn. When my income dropped in 2014, we weren’t able to go grocery shopping for 9 months. 9 months without going to the store! If I had not taken the time to build a food stockpile or to can the chicken that I got from Zaycon Foods that year, we would have gone hungry. Because I was proactive though, we ate very well.
Always follow FDA guidelines –
This is the biggest thing that I see home canners messing with and simply put, it is the most dangerous which is why this is the very first thing on my list of canning safety tips. The FDA food guidelines are there for a reason; your safety and the safety of your family. For example: I recently had a friend who had home canned rice. When she told me and refused to believe it wasn’t safe, I duplicated her canning exactly. What I found was absolutely disgusting and a good reason you shouldn’t try to can rice.
“Because my Mom did it,” “My grandma did it” or any of the other excuses that are common are simply not worth risking your family’s safety. Instead, pick up a Ball Blue Book and keep to those FDA guidelines. You’ll do so knowing that you are only giving your family safe foods.
Use the proper size pressure canner –
Number two on my list of canning safety tips is inspired by another mistake that I often see people trying to do. You can not safely home can food in a small pressure cooker. There are two types of these and one is not meant for canning. You need to be using an actual pressure canner like the Presto 22 qt. Pressure Cooker/Canner and not something small like a 6 quart pressure cooker. One can do both but the other can only safely cook. If you’re not using the correct one, you run the risk of having your jars not get hot enough to kill botulism, of having failed seals or even having jars explode more often because they aren’t be processed correctly.
Also? Your Instant Pot is fantastic for cooking dinner, but it can not be canned in.
Know your Cooker Inside and Out –
One of the most common mistakes that a new canner makes is not knowing the equipment they’re using. This is why even though your water bath canner might seem like it is nothing more than a big pot (hint: it really is just a big pot with a lid and rack) or you may have used a pressure canner before, you should still read the instruction manual that comes with it. This will make certain that you know about all safety features, the steps for canning in it and more.
Always inspect your canner –
Before you even load your canner, you’ll want to be sure you do a thorough inspection of the canner itself and the lid. Be sure there are no rust spots, dents in the metal or any other issues that could cause it to lose pressure, build excess pressure or fail in any other way. This simple canning safety tip doesn’t take long but will go a long way toward keeping incidents down.
Always check the vent pipe –
In addition to checking the canner and lid itself, you also will want to check the pressure lock and vent pipe before you begin. They both should be free of food debris. Your pressure lock should move freely up and down when you check it and the vent pipe should be clear. In other words, yes, pick up your lid and look through the vent pipe. If you can see through it, you’re good to go. If your vent pipe happens to be blocked, that’s okay. Run a pipe cleaner or something of that sort down through it to clean it out then re-wash your lid making sure to run water through the vent pipe.
Don’t use broken jars –
Before you even fill your jars, make sure to inspect them for cracks or chips. If you find one, don’t use it. Cracks and chips weaken the structural integrity of the jar making it more likely to shatter which can cause cuts and a lot of wasted food.
Don’t reuse lids –
Disposable canning lids are meant for one use only. The rubber seal that they have on them is only good for one use and if you attempt to use them more than once, you could be inviting bacteria or worse into your jar of home canned food. If you want to find a lid that you can reuse, Tattler reusable canning lids are the only option that I know of. They take a bit of time to get used to, but can save you quite a bit in the long run over disposable lids. In our home, we do save our used lids in a separate bin. These are used for jars that won’t be sealed such as smoothies that I make up, my Thrive Lifestyle Mix and so on.
Canning rings however can be reused. Just be sure to inspect them well and toss any that have rust or other issues before using them.
Don’t overload your canner –
When you’re loading your canning jars, don’t overload your canner. You can only fit so many in each canner type without risking the jars hitting together and shattering. My pressure canner safely holds 6 quarts and 9 pints.
Use a canning rack –
Whether you’re using a pressure canner or a water bath canner, it came with a rack that you need to be sure you use. Jars sitting on the bottom of the pans without a rack are sitting directly on the heat. This will cause them to explode which not only makes a pretty big mess but is also a great way to cut yourself.
Keep your pressure cooker ring well oiled –
Your pressure cooker/canner lid has a black rubber ring around the top of it. Over time and use, this ring will dry out and crack. It could keep your pressure canner from getting a good seal which can cause lid failure, failure to kill bacteria such as botulism or even jars to explode. To keep this ring from drying out, simply wash it with a homemade dish soap, dry fully then rub a thin layer of cooking oil onto it. Vegetable or canola oil is best for this.
Always check for a good seal –
Speaking of seals, always make sure your canner has a good seal before you attempt to bring it up to pressure. As I mentioned in the last point, failure to have a good seal is a great way to have under processed food. Botulism can be deadly and isn’t worth the risk.
Watch your pressure –
Your canning recipes have a specific processing time that you are to process each jar or batch of jars. For instance, meats must be processed in a pressure canner at 15 PSI for 90 minutes. The reason for this is that it takes this long to be certain that you have killed any bacteria that may be growing in the jars or on the meat and that you have sealed it well enough to prevent botulism growth. If your pressure drops, you will need to restart and re-build pressure to be certain that you processed at the correct PSI for the time given. This may mean that you need to keep a watchful eye on your pressure gauge. If you have a dial gauge canner and want to make things easier on yourself, you can pick up a pressure canning regulator than yours came with to help you regulate pressure much easier.
Not only that, but if you allow your pressure to go too high, you risk the chance that your canner will explode. A pressure canner is safe when you watch the pressure, but they can be dangerous if you’re not watching.
When your processing time is completed, you will still be watching your pressure. Wait until the pressure in your canner has completely dropped before you attempt to open it. Each pressure canner has a knob or something that will pop up when there is pressure in the canner. Once that pressure has come down naturally, that knob or button will drop. Once the button has dropped, it is safe to open the canner. I am a bit leery on mine so I personally tend to wait an additional 5-10 minutes after it drops to open the canner.
Use tongs or a mitt to remove jars –
When you go to remove your jars, don’t touch them with your bare hands. Whether you’ve used a water bath canner or a pressure canner, they will be extremely hot. Instead, use canning jar tongs or a silicone mitt to remove them. Be mindful of any steam as well. Once your jars are removed, sit them on the counter and don’t touch them for 24 hours. After 24 hours, check your seals and clean your jars.
Take your time –
After you remove your jars, you’ll want to let them sit for 24 hours before you pick them up and check them for seals, but do an initial check to make sure that they’ve all sealed from the start. The 24 hour check is for seals that may come undone, but checking as soon as they come out of the canner can help you catch jars that never sealed to begin with. If you find any jars that haven’t sealed at all, either refrigerate them or reprocess them immediately.
Taking your time also applies to every step of canning. From the starting steps of heating your lids to checking your seals. Your family can be harmed by home canned food gone bad so it is worth taking the time to complete each step.
Check your stock monthly for busted seals –
After you’ve put your jars on the shelf, don’t just forget about them. Over time, jars can become unsealed. Sometimes it is caused by food particles under the lid that weren’t cleaned, other times it can be caused by grease on the jar and still others, there is no apparent cause. No matter the reason though an unsealed jar is an unsafe jar. As you use your jars, make sure to check the remaining ones to be sure they’re all sealed. If you find one that isn’t any longer, either throw the entire jar away or dump the food and sterilize the jar very well. Toss both the lid and ring on a jar that has come unsealed.
I know that these canning safety tips can be overwhelming and honestly they can be quite scary, but the truth is that following these canning safety tips and any others that I might have missed could literally save your life. Botulism is found in home canned food that isn’t processed correctly and as I said earlier can be fatal. It isn’t worth your life or the life of one of your family members to mess around with it. Do you have any other canning safety tips that I might have missed? I’d love to hear them!