Pressure Canning Safety Tips

To most people these may look like simple jars of home-canned pinto beans, but to me these beans are much more.  These jars celebrate an anniversary of sorts.  More importantly they are a symbol of my own courage and strength; and a reminder of  important lessons learned.  Too much for a pint of pintos to carry?  You may feel differently when you hear the whole story.

One year ago today I was 8 months pregnant and feeling great.  Knowing I would be homeschooling my 3 older kiddos and taking care of our new one, I was anxious to put BB’s add-on offers to use and have a well-stocked pantry before the baby made his appearance.  I had been canning fruits and veggies almost daily for weeks.  It was a Saturday so, after volunteering at my BB site, I settled in for a day of canning.  I pulled out the old pressure canner purchased off of Craig’s list one year before.  I had pressure canned many times before and felt that I had a healthy respect for and a solid understanding of the process.   Well, when processing was done and I had let the canner cool for what I thought was long enough, the old gauge on my canner incorrectly showed zero pressure. Also, the rubber rings were brittle and had not sealed as they should making the canner easier to open than it should have been.  I went to open the canner and, despite a VERY strong feeling that I should wait to open it, I lifted the lid and was  met with a wash of scalding hot water and steam on both hands, my pregnant belly, and my feet.   I felt my clothes start melting to my skin and quickly got in a cold shower.  As blisters rose and pain increased, my husband and I knew we could not handle the situation alone.

A trip to the ER told us that I had mostly second and some third degree burns, serious blisters, and likely permanent scarring. I have spared you the pictures but believe me, it was gruesome.  Thankfully, the fetal monitor showed that the sweet baby I was carrying was safe though the Dr. warned that, only four weeks away from delivery, some of my burns would not be healed up in time to nurse or even hold the baby (yes, the burns affected areas absolutely vital to nursing). This was devastating to me.  Fortunately, after 2 weeks of total bed rest and constant care from my wonderful husband, the burn was healing nicely.  While my hands and one part of my belly were slower to heal, feet and other areas of my body were clearing up. By the time the baby came I was able to care for him as I had planned and without too much discomfort. One year later I still have scars on my hands and stomach and I still carry a fear of opening that canner.

Today’s jars of beans are the first pressure canning project I have done since the accident.  It was terrifying, thrilling, and therapeutic all at the same time.  I probably let the finished jars sit cooling in the sealed pot too long, and I shook like a leaf as I opened the lid (with hubby close by and kiddos far away).  But I did it.  I overcame my fear and returned to the hobby I love.  I will admit I have returned wiser and far more cautious.  As I share this story, it is NOT my intent to scare anyone off from canning.  Quite the opposite.  I hope that you will see if I can do it YOU can do it.   And hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.    Here are some of the things I learned (or was reminded of) the hard way.


Yearly Canner Inspections:
This is a free service provided by your local county extension office.  They will ensure that pressure gauges are reading accurately, that valves are clean and safe, etc.  They will also make recommendations about parts that may need to be replaced.  Had I done this prior to using the canner I would have known that my gauge was off and that rubber rings needed to be replaced.

Proper Canning Attire:
We have a strict “no shoes in the house” rule.  This rule is set aside when canning.  I now always wear socks and heavy shoes when I’m canning.  I also don sturdy work gloves, and a heavy apron.  Granted, canning is hard, hot work and all this doesn’t help me stay cool, but it certainlywill prevent the kind of burns I experienced from happening again.

Clear the Kitchen:
Myheart still skips a beat when I think of how much worse that day would have been had my little ones been playing in the kitchen at the time.  It was not uncommon to have a pot and pan band spread out on the kitchen floor, accompanying me while I worked.  Now I am the kitchen Nazi from the time the water is started until the last jar is cooling on the counter and the pot water is emptied.  My husband and I are the ONLY ones allowed in the kitchen for ANYTHING. I use a child gate and two chairs to block entrances and if I had pets they would be put outside.

Post and Re-Read the Directions:
Admittedly, I was falling into a routine and lost respect for the process of pressure canning.  When I had first started pressure canning I carefully read each step, but on the day of the accident I quickly skimmed the directions thinking “I’ve got it, I just did this yesterday”.  What I didn’t think about, is that even though I “knew what I was doing” the act of reading directions is not just about the steps.  It is about slowing down, and focusing my mind on a project that, while a fun, satisfying hobby, carries great risk when done incorrectly. I now have the basic steps of both water-bath and pressure canning taped to the inside of one of my kitchen cabinets.  I read over the process before starting and leave the cabinet door open while I work.  I check and double check each step as I work.  I also try (as best I can with 4 kids) to have canning be the ONLY thing on my agenda- no double tasking on canning day.

Take a Class:
OK I have not done this one yet, but I really want to take a “master-canner” class that walks me through each step of the process.  I think this would give me one more level of knowledge and  confidence.  Until then, I rely on experts to help answer questions.

Take Your Time:
Prepping food for canning can be a group activity and can go at a good pace but once your goodies are ready to process it’s time to clear out the helpers, focus, and be patient.  It takes time for things to heat up, time for processing, and time for everything to properly cool down.  Never force a canner open, even if gadgets are telling you it should be cool. Follow directions, follow your instincts, take your time, and enjoy the benefits of your hard work.  4

Happy Canning!


  1. Hey thanks for this post. I just did this today. Same problem – no pressure reading on my old canner, over-confidence, and went against my instincts when the lid needed a little more ‘oomph’ to get it open than it had before. Blisters all over my stomach and right leg, same sinking feeling about the what-ifs as far as my little ones and the fact that they could have been in there.. And lastly, a fear that I may never have the guts to can again. I’m glad you over came it…Hopefully I will too!

  2. can you can something that contains sour cream?

  3. JoAnn Williams

    Gayla- I’m right there with you. I still get nervous. Kamie and Donnie- thanks for the extra tips and reminders. It’s a fun hobby but definitely one that requires good equipment, and concentration.

  4. If ever in doubt that the pressure has not been released enough, run cold water over the canner lid and it should come immediatly down. I have a Fagor pressure cooker and I am going to get a Fagor pressure canner this fall. They are so user friendly, do a web search for them so that you can see what I mean by user friendly.

    I like your idea about taking a master canner class!

  5. Kami Crump

    Very good tips to remember! And if I can add just one more . . . ALWAYS open the canner lid so the steam rises away from you – the top of the lid should be toward you.

  6. What an awful experience! I’m very happy that the baby was fine and that it wasn’t any worse. I’ve been water bath canning like crazy and I have a pressure canner, but I have to admit it does make me a little nervous. I’ve never been hurt, but, I did see one “explode” when I was a kid and my parents’ kitchen ceiling is STILL stained from that incident. 🙂

  7. JoAnn Williams

    Thanks for your kind words Kathy. I hope that you have a great, safe canning season!

  8. Kathy Brinton

    Thanks for sharing your hard-learned experiences and for giving us tips. I’m going to take your advice in all areas. Hope you have a happy harvest this year!

    Kathy Brinton

Leave a Reply