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Ann Hamilton offers advice on steam cooking. (Courtesy photo)

Electric cookers, also known as instant pots or multi-cookers, are used for slow-cooking, searing, sauteing, simmering, and steaming food.

Probably the most talked-about use for electric multi-cookers is the pressure-cooking feature which can make meal prep easier. Some of these small appliances also have a button for "canning" or "steam canning". The feature purportedly allows the user to pressure can low-acid food.

However, these appliances haven't been tested for safety or development of recipes by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or universities for pressure canning low-acid food. Low-acid food includes vegetables, beans, meat, poultry, fish, wild game, and soups. These foods need to be processed using a pressure canner to prevent a variety of illnesses, the most dangerous being botulism poisoning. The type of canner being used does matter.

USDA and universities have conducted extensive thermal processing development and research to determine safe guidelines for processing low-acid foods in traditional, stove-top pressure canners. It is unknown if the companies making and advising on canning using electric pressure cookers have done thermal processing development work.

Research-based processing times for pressure canned foods are based on the time it takes for the canner and the contents to heat up, vent, process for the recommended time at the correct temperature, and the natural cool down of the canner. It is important that all steps be followed precisely for the safety of the canned food. It is recommended to use current, research-based recipes such as those found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation by visiting nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_home.html, and the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning by visiting nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html.

Preliminary research by Utah State University Extension has found that electric pressure cookers don't reach adequate and stable temperatures for pressure canning, particularly at high elevations. Due to their small size, they also heat and cool too quickly. All these factors can result in under-processed food. If low-acid food is under-processed, an odorless, tasteless poison called botulism toxin can form. Botulism can be debilitating and even result in death. Visit www.cdc.gov/botulism/index.html for information on botulism from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

USDA and University of New Hampshire Extension recommend that only traditional, stove-top pressure canners be used for canning low-acid foods. Pressure canners have either a dial or weighted gauge to regulate the pressure. Pressure canners should hold a minimum of four one-quart canning jars; most hold seven one-quart jars or eight or nine one-pint jars. Dial gauges on pressure canners should be tested yearly for accuracy. UNH Extension does provide this service. Visit bit.ly/332Lzko for more information.

More detailed information on why electric multi-cookers are not recommended for canning can be found on the National Center for Home Food Preservation's Burning Issues blog by visiting nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/electric_cookers.html.


The Ask UNH Extension Infoline offers practical help finding answers for home, yard, and garden questions. Call 877-398-4769, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., or e-mail answers@unh.edu.

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