Can You Use an Instant Pot for Canning?

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Canning enthusiasts are always looking to innovate. As of 2017, the Instant Pot has a setting made especially for canning. But is it a good idea to use an instant pot for canning?

You can use an instant pot for canning, as long as you use the water bath method with high-acid foods. Whether it’s safe to use it for pressure canning or low-acid foods is disputed, and some studies say it creates underprocessed food. To be safe, don’t use an instant pot for pressure canning.

In this article, I’ll explain why not to use an Instant Pot for pressure canning. I’ll also explain why water bath canning is safe for high-acid foods and why it’s not for low-acid foods. Lastly, I’ll give instructions on how to can with your Instant Pot.

Why Shouldn’t You Use an Instant Pot for Pressure Canning?

New instant pots have a canning setting—that’s there for a reason, right? So, why shouldn’t you use an instant pot for pressure canning? If the button is there, doesn’t that mean it’s safe?

You shouldn’t use an instant pot for pressure canning because heat up and cool down times are impacted by altitude and the use of an instant pot. In addition, low-acid foods are vulnerable to botulism, and an instant pot doesn’t reach adequate pressure levels to destroy spores.

How Pressure Canning Works

Pressure canning is a method of canning used for low-acid foods that can’t be completely sterilized using the water bath method. Killing all bacteria, fungus, and other illness-causing organisms requires an extremely high temperature of 240 to 250°F (115.56 to 121.11°C).

However, reaching such high temperatures is difficult under normal means. This is why canning enthusiasts introduce pressure into the mix. By putting your food-filled jars under pressure, canners can more easily reach the temperatures required to process the food properly.

Low-Acid vs. High-Acid Foods and Why Acidity Matters

What does it mean when food is low-acid? Well, canned foods can be separated into two categories: low-acid food like meats and vegetables, which have a PH of 4.6 or higher, and high-acid foods with a lower PH like pickles, jams, and tomatoes.

Low-acid foods are less acidic, meaning it’s easier for illness-causing organisms to thrive inside the jar. They need a higher temperature for pressure canning. If they are under-processed, they can grow and produce bacteria and spores that can make you sick.

Instant Pots Fail To Meet Pressure Canning Conditions

So, why are instant pots—also known as pressure cookers—not ideal for pressure canning?

Instant pots are smaller than canners, require less water, and contain less metal. Unfortunately, this means they can’t reach the adequate pressure levels and temperatures required to sterilize your low-acid foods properly.

Their heat-up and cool-down times also differ from the norm; if you aren’t careful, you may not reach the required pressure or temperature for the time necessary. This increases the chance of you and your family eating underprocessed food.

Why Water Bath Canning With an Instant Pot Is Safer

So, pressure canning with an instant pot is not a great idea. This may lead you to wonder why water bath canning with an instant pot is safer. Well, water bath canning doesn’t rely as much on pressure. Here’s why. 

Water Bath Canning Doesn’t Rely on Pressure

Water bath canning is another method of preparing canned food. It kills organisms in a jar using heat and drives the air out so no microorganisms can grow within. It doesn’t reach high temperatures like pressure canning, but it’s enough for high-acid foods already inhospitable to illness-causing bacteria and spores.

With water bath canning, your food’s safety doesn’t hinge on pressure—instead, it relies on heat. Unlike pressure canning, your Instant Pot can meet these requirements easily.

Is a Water Bath in an Instant Pot Enough for Low-Acid Foods?

An instant pot is a great tool for water bath canning. But you may be wondering, is it enough to process low-acid foods like meat and vegetables?

A water bath in an instant pot isn’t enough for low-acid foods. These foods are less resistant to botulism than high-acid foods, so using a weaker instant pot over a dedicated canner increases the risk of poisoning. This is true of your stove, too; low-acid food needs to be pressure-canned.

As I said above, pressure canning uses additional pressure to reach the much higher temperatures required to sterilize low-acid foods completely. If your pot doesn’t reach these temperatures, your food may retain organisms that can cause food-borne illnesses like botulism or salmonella.

Instant pots aren’t great at reaching the pressure levels required for pressure canning. So, if you need to pressure can your low-acid foods, it’s safer to use a dedicated canner.

How To Do Water Bath Canning in an Instant Pot

Now you know why you shouldn’t use an instant pot for pressure canning and why using a water bath for high-acid foods is safe. But how, exactly, do you do water bath canning in an instant pot? How does it differ from water bath canning on your stove? I’ll explain the process in the following sections.

Preparing Your Jars

First, you need to inspect your jars and prepare them for the canning process. Here are the steps to do so.

  1. Inspect your jars and lids for defects. Nicks, cracks, and other imperfections can prevent an airtight seal or cause your jars to fail under the heat and pressure and explode. Never use a damaged jar.
  2. Boil your jars for 10 minutes to sterilize them. The heat will kill any organisms on their surfaces, helping to keep your food safe. If you are at a high altitude, add an extra minute for every 1,000 feet (3048 m) above sea level.

Packing Your Food

Now, you need to pack your food into your jars. There are two ways to do so: raw packing and hot packing. 

Raw packing is relatively straightforward: you leave your food uncooked and pour boiling water or syrup over the top to create appropriate space inside the jar. 

For hot packing, you heat your food to boiling with its moisture and then pack it.

Here are the steps for packing your food.

  1. If you’re raw packing, put your food into your jars. Remember, your food will shrink over time, so pack it tightly to avoid wasting space in the jar.
  2. Boil your water or syrup. If you’re hot packing, boil your food with it. Some recipes call for a certain amount of time spent cooking, so follow these directions accordingly.
  3. Add water or syrup to the jars. If you’re hot packing, pour your food in with it. Your food has already shrunk with hot packing, so leave room for your liquid to create space inside your jar.
  4. Gently shake your jar to remove any air bubbles. If you have one, you can also use a debubbler, but this tool is not required.

Preparing the Water Bath

Lastly, you should prepare a water bath to sterilize your jars and food completely. This is the longest part of the process, but it’s also the least intensive. Here’s how to do it:

  1. First, add 3 cups of water to your instant pot.
  2. Add two tablespoons of white vinegar to the water. This helps the Instant Pot sterilize your jars. It’s not required, but it’s a good practice to have.
  3. Place all your filled jars on the Instant Pot’s trivet. Make sure to put them in the center so they don’t touch the pot’s walls.
  4. Lower the trivet into the Instant Pot. Remember to ensure your jars aren’t touching the bottom of the pot; otherwise, they may shatter.
  5. Set your Instant Pot to steam. During this step, check to ensure the pressure valve is venting and the Instant Pot is working properly.
  6. Wait for the steam to start venting, then set your timer. The time you should steam your jars should be on your recipe.
  7. Wait for the cooking process to finish. You’ll know it’s time to unload your instant pot when its float valve drops.
  8. Use a jar lifter to remove your jars from the bath. Be careful not to burn yourself!
  9. Put all of the jars on a cooling rack, and leave them to cool completely. They need to spend a minimum of 12 hours at room temperature after they’ve cooled, so make sure they’re in a spot that’s out of the way.

That’s how you do water bath canning with an Instant Pot!