Steam Canning : Extension Approved?

Steam canning is a process where you use a steam canner (versus waterbacth or pressure). The debate lies between the USDA and local Extension Offices. shares what they learned.

The Utah State University Extension has tested steam canning for preserving fruits, jam and jelly and found it safe and efficient.   (edit to add,  Wisconsin has now published findings as well,  I've added their information below as well) 

Each state has it's own extension office and website.  Some have more canning information than others, and despite searches I could never find any testing done on these canners. 

Even with all the the anecdotal stories of success and the seeming benefits, I never plunged into steam canning.   I’m so persnickety with my concern over canning safety.   (I know it drives some old timers crazy.  That's ok we can agree to disagree on some things.)   I decided to wait.  I had heard that they were maybe being tested so I waited…. and waited… and waited.  

A reader kindly pointed out that the Utah state Extension service did indeed test and approve steam canning certain foods.   

Apparently they are firmly in the middle of the debate because they do still say that the USDA doesn't endorse it... but the Utah Extension has tested it and approved it.  You decipher that one.  I can not make your decision for you regarding this issue.  :) 

For me, I'm thinking about giving steam canning a try based on the Utah state testing.  I have not tried it yet. 

This is what they have to say…. 

image from the Utah State Extension. 1-10-2014

"The USDA does not recommend the use of steam canners due to inadequate research and testing.  However, Utah State University (emphasis mine) has tested the steam canners and has found them to be safe and adequate for processing certain foods if used according to instructions and safe canning procedures.  Due to botulism poisoning potential, steam canners may NOT be used for for meats, tomatoes, and vegetables.  

If you choose to use a steam canner for jams, jellies, or fruits, only USDA approved and tested recipes and canning times should be used. Processing times for boiling-water bath canners may be used for steam canners.  It is very important to follow instructions and be sure that an 8 to 10-inch plume of steam is present during the entire processing time. The water must not run out before the end of processing.

Source - Utah State Extension   as always don't take my word for it, check it out yourself.  

Yay!  I'm editing this page to add another resource I found.  

Well when I first posted this page I had some people really upset with me. Since it was only the Utah extension that was approving of this method some felt I was stepping out on a limb.  I felt I was just reporting what I found so you could make your own educated decision.

Well I can now say there is another source that is approving of steam canning.  The University of Wisconsin.  Go Wisconsin!    

Like the Utah state extension Wisconsin has also published material with safety recommendations.  The publication can be found at this link..... 

One thing I noticed When I read this information sheet is this statement.... 

The booklet accompanying the Atmospheric Steam Canner can’t be relied on to provide safe canning instructions!

So as weird as it may seem, don't use the booklet for your processing times, use tested waterbath canning directions. 

And this is even better.... 

The University of Wisconsin has published research which indicates that an Atmospheric Steam Canner may be safely used for canning naturally acid foods such as peaches, pears, and apples, or acidified-foods such as salsa or pickles, as long as all of the following criteria are met:

The pamphlet then goes on to list some criteria.  But did you notice it? They include acidified foods such as salsa and pickles.  This is good news. The Utah extension did not list the acidified foods.  

But remember.... ONLY tested recipes!  I'm not kidding about this.  Especially with things like pickles and salsa.  It is the acid level that makes it safe.  Tested recipes have a known acid level. 

I'm tickled pink with this information.  Can't wait to try it.  

Please take note of these points...

  • Utah states - Steam canners should only be used with jam, jelly and fruit.  
  • Wisconsin states - Steam canners should be used with high acid foods including pickled items and salsas.  
  • AND….Both say.....  do NOT use this type of canner with any low acid foods (Meats or Vegetables) 

Check out both steam canning informational sheets and make your decision from there.  

Utah State University PDF

Wisconsin State University PDF -

Then please come back and visit me here!

If you are still in the dark about what exactly a steam canner is and how it works check out this page where I talk more about how to use a steam canner and the two types of steam canners.   These are extension provided instructions.  

Steam Canning Experience 

With a personal lack of steam canning experience, I asked Simply Canning Facebook Group if they would share some comments.   Here are some snapshots of a few.  Plus some e-mail comments I've received.  

I've had an enamel steam canner for almost 35 years - and I've used it every single year since then for jams, tomatoes, salsa, pickles, etc etc.

It's been easy, reliable, effective and totally safe - we've raised 3 adult children on all my canning over the years. They still clamor for anything i can spare.

I'd NEVER go back to a boiling water bath canner- although that is what i started out with back in the mid 70's when the kids were babes. I was given a steam canner in 1978 and have never looked back!

Of course only pressure canning is safe for meat, fish or vegetables- everyone should know that.

Liz W says:  I bought a steam canner with the intention of using it in place of my boiling water canner. 

I don't have an actual kitchen--my canning is done outside on a propane burner, and carrying jars back and forth can be a problem. 

So I was looking for something light enough to use on the hot plate inside, and the steam canner seemed to be perfect for that. But after reading the concerns of people who had tested it and found significant variations in temperature from one point to another inside it, I decided to use it only for high-acid or high-sugar items like pickles or jams. 

So far, I've made multiple batches of marmalade and other jams, and it has worked very well.

Oma, Wilma says;  Have only had my steam canner for 6 months. And I love it for steaming jars before putting into pressure cooker or before filling with hot jam. Love the flat surface to set jars on. 

The main reason I purchased the steam canner is for steaming Brown Bread. You won't believe how great it works. Have used coffee cans and jars, which have worked perfect. Cans steam 3 hours, wide mouth pint jars 2 hours. Both are filled 3/4 full.  

Will never go back to water bath steamed breads or jams.

The type of canner Nancy is mentioning here is I believe just like mine.  It is a stainless steel water bath canner that doubles as a steam canner.  One pot for two uses. Both Waterbath and Steam Canning.  I'm going to do a bit of calling and see if I can confirm that these pots will work just the same as the type of steam canner with the shallow base.    Read more here.... 

Ken says: I've used a steam canner for 3 years now. Mostly with pickles but the past 2 years I canned whole tomatoes with it. It saves time and is much easier to use. 

Hobby Farmer says:  I have been using my steam canner for years to make jams and jellies, and just recently marmalade. I usually add about 5 minutes or so to the recommended times as it can be tricky to decide when to start the timer. 

It can be hard to tell if enough steam is coming out the holes. I also set my water kettle on top of the dome- this stops the rattling and keeps the steam in better. If I remember correctly, the first time I used the steam canner the jars did not seal, as I started my timer too soon. 

Sometimes steam will come out one side but not the other- wait until steam is coming out BOTH sides (the kettle helps with this). 

Websites from other countries like Sweden have lots of info on steam canning. (Apparently steam canning works fine in Europe but not in the US.       ;-)   

cshellz    My mom bought me one 2 years ago and I loved it so much I went out and bought another. I steam anything that you would normally do a hot water bath such as fruits, pie filling etc.  

(Simply Canning notes ;Please note my comment in the article above about just what has been tested and what has not.)

I haven't ever had a failure to report, although I did forget to check the water level once in between batches and had to start that batch over.

  It's light weight, easy to add water to, absolutely great to have the empty jars sitting the steamer base while the water is simmering while you fill each jar, return to the base and when done, cover, bring to a boil until you have a stream of steam shooting out the vent and start your timer.

The best part is that you don't have to deal with boiling water and lifting up the jars when you're done. Remove the dome lid and there are your jars at stove top level. I highly recommend them for ease if for no other reason :)

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