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Feature Articles - Aging


Steam canning: A new option for seniors

Amy Bartels, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Laclede County, University of Missouri Extension


Atmospheric steam cannerAs we age, we naturally lose a certain amount of strength in our large muscles. Arm and shoulder weakness and a reduced sense of balance can often make it difficult for seniors to do activities they enjoy. Home food preservation is one such activity. For many, just the thought of lifting the canner of water from the sink to the stove can cause them to abandon home food preservation altogether.


In 2015, the National Center for Home Food Preservation added steam canning to the list of approved methods for safe home food preservation. Steam canning is a method in which filled jars in an enclosed pot are processed by hot steam. It’s also been referred to as “atmospheric steam canning” in order to clarify that it’s happening at a normal atmosphere or pressure as opposed to under induced, artificial pressure (i.e., pressure canning).


Compared to water bath canning, steam canning cuts down on time and energy costs, as well as water usage. Unlike a water bath, a steam canner only uses approximately 1 quarts of water when processing jars of home canned food. Water bath canners may require up to four gallons of water to fill up and cover the jars. As a result, home canning with steam is faster because you are heating less water.


Steam canners are also easier to handle because they are flat-bottomed and lightweight, making it easier to move the pot from the sink to the stove burner.


Another benefit to steam canning is the ability to preserve just a few jars at a time. Smaller batches can make the task more manageable physically as well as economically.


In many cases, seniors move from a familiar kitchen into an apartment or other facility where appliances and utilities may differ from what they are used to. If you have a glass-top stove, steam canning can be a fantastic option. However, you need to make sure that your cooktop will maintain a constant heat while processing. Some burners cycle on and off with automatic shutdowns when heat gets excessive. If the burner shuts off during processing, food can be under-processed and unsafe to consume.


A few tips to remember when processing using a steam canner:


  • Foods must be high in acid, with a pH of 4.6 or lower. Water bath and steam canning options are only available for high-acid foods like jams, jellies, most fruits, pickles, relishes, chutneys, salsas, tomato products with added acid, etc.
  • Jars must be heated before filling, and filled with hot liquid for a raw or hot pack.
  • A research-tested recipe developed for a boiling-water canner must be used when steam canning. Steam canners can be used with recipes approved for half-pint, pint or quart jars. Do not rely on the booklet accompanying a steam canner to provide safe processing times.
  • Processing time must be limited to 45 minutes or less, including any modification for altitude. The processing time is limited by the amount of water in the canner base.



For more information and resources, see Atmospheric steam canning – A new option.


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Last update: Tuesday, August 30, 2016