Pap smears for pressure canners
If you use pressure canning to preserve fruits and vegetables, don’t forget to take your canner top in for an annual checkup before you start using it this year. Think of it as a pap smear for canners — nobody wants to do it, but it could save your life. Seriously.
If your pressure canner gauge isn’t accurately reporting the pressure inside the canner, your canning process may not destroy the spores of bacteria naturally found on fresh food. If those spores aren’t destroyed and are stored in an airtight container (like a sealed jar), they will develop into the botulinal toxin, which causes deadly botulism. And why go to all the trouble to can fresh food for your family if they’re going to get sick when they eat it? Right.
That’s why I made my annual trek today to my county’s cooperative extension office to have my canner top tested. (That’s mine in the picture above.) It only took a few minutes for Theresa, the helpful extension agent, to place my top on the tester and determine whether it was measuring pressure correctly. It was a little off — when the pressure gets to 10 pounds, my gauge reads only 9.5. But that’s no big deal; Theresa placed a little sticker on the top to remind me to keep the gauge one-half pound below the recommended pressure.
Before I left, Theresa gave me a stack of good information about canning and freezing foods. She also gave me a few reminders to make sure I’m canning safely:
- Always have your pressure canner top tested before you start canning for the season. (Contact your local extension office for information about testing sites.)
- Once your pressure canner gets to the desired pressure (such as 10 pounds), always keep it there for the full recommended time (such as 25 minutes for green beans).
- After processing is complete, never open the canner or jiggle the petcock until the pressure gauge has gone all the way back to zero. Allow the canner to cool on its own.
- When the canner has had time to cool, always remove the back of the top first, so heat and steam escape away from your face and arms.
What other pressure canning safety tips do you find helpful?
Photo credit: Nancy Mann Jackson