Start the pressure-canning season off right

pressure cannerContact Barbara Ingham, 608-263-7383,

As the canning season heats up, it’s a good time to check over your pressure canner to make sure that it is working properly. While a boiling water canner is used for canning acid foods like peaches or pears, a pressure canner must be used to safely process low-acid vegetables like peas and green beans, as well as meats.

Modern pressure canners are lightweight units with special safety features that make home canning easy, says University of Wisconsin-Extension food science specialist Barbara Ingham.

“Today’s pressure canner has a dial gauge or a weighted gauge for indicating and regulating pressure,” explains Ingham.

Dial gauge canners usually have a counterweight or pressure regulator for sealing off the open vent pipe to pressurize the canner. This weight should not be confused with a weighted gauge and should not jiggle or rock during the canning process.

Weighted gauge canners are usually designed to jiggle several times a minute or to rock gently when they are maintaining the correct pressure. “Read your manufacturer’s directions to know how a particular weighted gauge should rock or jiggle to indicate that the proper pressure is reached and then maintained during processing,” says Ingham.

Getting started

–When removing your canner from storage at the start of the season, start by washing it in warm soapy water; then rinse and dry

–If you have a dial gauge canner, do not immerse the dial in water.

–Inspect the gasket. “It should be flexible, not hard or cracked,” says Ingham.

–Do not store the gasket in the lid. Instead, after each use, remove the gasket from the lid, rinse in warm soapy water and allow to air dry; then store in the base of the canner.

–Inspect the vent port, making sure that it is free of debris and will allow air and steam to flow freely.

“I often answer questions about pressure canning, and I recommend that the first thing you can each year is water,” says Ingham. To do this, place warm water in your canner as directed in the user’s manual, seal the canner lid in place, and place the canner over high heat to vent. Allow the canner to vent for 10 minutes; then seal the vent port with a counterweight (dial gauge canner) or the weighted gauge, and allow the canner to pressurize.

“This relatively quick process lets you check the gasket to make sure it will seal the canner and see that everything is working,” says Ingham. Once you are sure that the canner is functioning properly, you can turn off the heat and allow the canner to depressurize.

“Checking your canner with water may save you a few frantic moments later in the season before you pressure-can items such as meat or corn only to find that your canner isn’t working,” Ingham says.

If you are using a dial gauge canner, the dial should be tested every year to make sure it is working correctly. “Even brand new gauges out of the box should be tested,” says Ingham.

Most Wisconsin county UW-Extension offices offer dial gauge testing. Contact your county office to find out if testing is available. Contact information is available at

In addition to properly working equipment, it’s important to follow a research-tested up-to-date recipe to help ensure that the food that you are preserving will be safe for family and friends. The University of Wisconsin-Extension has a wide variety of safe home canning recipes available from your county UW-Extension office or online at Safe and Healthy: Preserving Food at Home

To learn more about keeping food safe, contact your local UW-Extension office. To stay abreast of all the latest food safety news, follow “Safe and Healthy: Preserving Food at Home.”

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