I recently saw an infomercial (or part of one) for an Instant cooker appliance similar to the very popular Instant Pot™. Such cookers have settings and lids which allow them to be used as a pressure cooker. In the infomercial, the hosts claimed that the instant cooker being demonstrated could be used for home canning. They also claimed the product met USDA standards for canning. This perked my ears up because such claims could be very dangerous.
You may be thinking it’s just home canning. My grandmother did it. What’s the big deal? Well, not all home canning is created equally. There are two methods of home canning used for two different types of foods.
For your normal run-o-the-mill canning, such as making some jam or fruit preserves, you wouldn’t need a pressure cooker or any type of instant cooker. For that, you’d just use the hot water bath method. This method, which most home cooks will be more familiar with, is suitable for high-acid foods such as pickles, tomatoes, salsas, and fruits that contain enough acids, especially citrus fruits, but many others as well. You can find information on basic home canning supplies here.
The high-acid content of these foods makes them suitable for canning at lower, but still very hot, temperatures. The insides of jars containing low acid foods like corn, beans, or meats need to reach a much higher temperature; one you can’t reach with plain boiling water. You need a pressure cooker. Since you also need a lot of space, especially vertically, this usually means you need a much larger pressure cooker than normally used. Therefore, you need quite a large pressure cooker for canning such as the Presto 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker. Note that the Presto is a traditional pressure cooker which is heated on the stove.
Several multi-cookers claim they are safe for canning and even include a canning button. The infomercial even claimed that the product being advertised met standards set by the USDA. If this were so, it would specifically be the National Center for Home Food Preservation or NCHFP. The NCHFP has taken notice of these claims and has stated in no uncertain terms that it does NOT support the use of electric multi-cooker appliances for pressure canning, regardless of whether they have “canning” or “steam canning” buttons on their panels.
In fact, the agency does not support the use of any sort of electric pressure cooker for home-canning except for one. It lists the “Ball Automatic Home Canner” which corresponds to the Ball FreshTech Automatic Home Canning System. This is not, however, an exception to the rule! The Ball home canning system is a method for using pressure for canning HIGH-ACID foods. It is not suitable, nor does it include any recipes or settings, for canning low-acid foods.
The NCHFP has used rigorous testing to develop standers for home pressure canning and it simply has no way of knowing if multi-cookers can meet these standards. To read more, read the report from the agency Should I can in my electric multi-cooker appliance?. In case there is any confusion, all these products are safe to use for pressure cooking, just not pressure canning.
As for the Ball Auto Canner, if you are content with following the few recipes included with the product, then you would probably be quite satisfied with it. It is quite a high-tech gadget and much care has gone into developing it. However, you’ll probably have a hard time adapting any other recipes to its use, meaning you’ll be stuck with the relatively few recipes included.
I searched and found a reference to home canning in the Instant Pot FAQ in the search results but it did not appear in the actual FAQ. This is because Instant Pot removed the references after conducting some research and no longer recommends its product for canning. Good for them! I should point out that the Instant Pot does not have a canning button on its front panel. Only a pressure cook button.
Unfortunately, many other products have not stopped making these claims.
What’s the Big Deal?
I wouldn’t blame you for asking whether this is all a bit fear-laden and overblown. What you need to realize is that home-canned foods are the most frequent source of botulism poisoning. Once you read about that, I think you’ll understand that a little fear is healthy, in this case. If your home-canned food was contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria which produce botulism toxin, you wouldn’t see or taste anything.
Update: Instant Pot has issued a warning to customers after several reports of units overheating. Those who own the Gem 65 8-in-1 (batch codes 1728, 1730, 1731, 1734, 1746) have been advised to refrain from using the unit until further updated. At this time, no recall has been issued. The company is expected to release information about a replacement unit sometime in the coming weeks. No other models have been affected.