Sunday, 24 September 2017

09:36 – It was 66.3F (13.5C) and partly cloudy when I took Colin out at 0700. Barbara is due back from Winston around lunchtime, so I need to spend some time de-wrecking the house.

Chris and Tamara Moser stopped over yesterday afternoon. They’re two of the four extra-class hams in the county, and also two of the four county residents who are qualified as Volunteer Examiners that can administer ham license tests.

Chris sent out email yesterday morning asking if anyone had a current copy of the ARRL exam book that they’d be willing to lend to one of the students in the Tech Exam class that commences early next month. I told him he was welcome to borrow mine.

We stood around talking when they got here, and they mentioned that there was a problem with holding the exam. There have to be three VE’s present at any exam, and Chris and Tamara are related to two of the people who’ll be taking the exam. That disqualifies them from being VE’s for that particular exam session.

I told them that the only reason I’d even tried taking the Extra exam when I passed my Tech and General licence exams was so that the county would have one more person qualified to be a VE.

They pointed out that I could still become a VE, but with only a General license that meant I’d only qualify to supervise exams for would-be Tech licensees. Of course, that’s exactly what the upcoming exam is for, so I’m going to go ahead and apply for VE credentials. I’ll probably pick up my Extra-class license at some point, which would qualify me to be a VE for all three license classes.

Email from Cassie yesterday, with the subject line “NEVER AGAIN”. Back in February, with the help of a friend who’s an experienced canner, Cassie had pressure canned 40 pints of chicken that she’d bought on sale. Cassie hadn’t stocked up on canning jars yet, so they used 40 pint jars and Tattler reusable lids supplied by her friend.

For dinner Friday, Cassie pulled a pint jar of canned chicken off her deep pantry shelf. They’d left the bands on the jars when they finished pressure-canning them. When Cassie unscrewed the band, the lid was loose as well. She didn’t have to pry it up, it just separated freely from the jar. Either that jar had never sealed, or it had lost its seal sometime during the seven months or so it had been sitting on the pantry shelf. The meat didn’t stink, but Cassie rightly treated that jar as a rattlesnake.

Obviously, that brought dinner to a crashing halt. Cassie said she almost literally vomited when she realized that they’d eaten several jars of that chicken over the preceding months, and that any one of those jars could have killed them. They ordered take-out for dinner, and while they waited for it to arrive Cassie pulled all the remaining jars of chicken off the shelf and removed the rings. Of the two dozen or so jars remaining, one had completely lost its seal, and she considered two or three more questionable. They decided to pitch all of the remaining jars of chicken, which was the right decision.

She immediately called her friend that had helped her can those jars to give her a heads-up. The friend was mortified, of course. She’d been canning meat with Tattler lids for a decade or more, and this was the first time there’d been any problem.

Cassie pulled the other hundred or so jars of meat she’d canned. Ground beef, beef chunks, pork, and sausage. She’d done those with the single-use metal lids supplied originally with the Ball jars, and every single one of them still had a good seal. Cassie concluded, and I agree, that the problem was the Tattler lids.

She did some additional research and came across this web page, which was originally posted five years ago and has been updated since. Study this page and the links before you even think about using Tattler lids.

Tattler lids are not USDA-approved for pressure canning. The Tattler website weasels around that lack of approval by stating that they use USDA-approved food-grade plastics in their lids, which is not the same as the lids themselves being approved. And the National Center for Home Food Preservation at UGA, which is the authoritative sources on all things related to pressure-canning, specifically recommends against using “reusable” canning lids.

The obvious temptation, particularly for preppers, is to buy a supply of Tattler lids as a long-term reusable solution in a grid-down scenario. The Tattler lids cost four or five times as much as a standard single-use Ball or Kerr metal lid, but can supposedly be reused over and over. I’d actually considered buying a supply of them for just that reason. But my conclusion after reading those pages is that not only can the Tattler lids not be trusted for re-use, they can’t even be trusted for single use. I intend to order a supply of name-brand, US-made Ball and/or Kerr metal single-use lids for just that reason. In bulk, you can find them for 18 or 20 cents each, which is a small price to pay for a reliable and safe seal.

I told Cassie that although I think she should discard all of the remaining canned chicken and the Tattler lids, she needn’t discard the jars themselves or the bands. Just stick them in the dishwasher on its longest cycle with sanitize turned on, and they should be fine. And, oh by the way, you’re not supposed to leave the bands on the jars after they seal. If nothing else, leaving the bands screwed down can give the impression that a jar has a good seal when it fact it’s a false seal. Cassie experienced that with a couple of the Tattler lids. It’s unlikely to happen with the metal lids, but it’s not worth taking the chance.

Cassie had originally bought half a gross of the Tattler lids from Amazon, at roughly a buck apiece. She gave 40 of those to her friend to replace the ones her friend had provided for their first canning session, so she had 32 unused Tattler lids. She’s been using the metal lids provided with the jars ever since, so the rest of what she’s canned is okay. She’s well beyond the Amazon return window, so she’s going to trash the unused lids and eat the cost. She’s pissed, and I don’t blame her. She’s not pissed at her friend or herself or Amazon. She’s pissed at Tattler. Rightly so, in my opinion.

I was actually kind of surprised that this experience didn’t turn her off completely to canning, but it hasn’t. She’s convinced that canning is safe, assuming she uses the right materials and procedures, and that it’s a cost-effective way to store food. In fact, the next time there’s a big sale on chicken, she plans to buy a bunch and can it up.

I almost didn’t mention this, but I decided it was worth noting. Jaime at Guildbrook Farms also pressure cans bulk meats, and she re-uses the METAL lids. According to all the authorities, that’s an unsafe practice, but I told Cassie if she wants to do that I’d suggest opening a sealed jar very, very carefully to avoid damaging the lid and then wash and sterilize that used lid and stick it on the shelf. In an SHTF situation, she could re-use those lids once she couldn’t get new ones, but in the interim I suggested she use new lids every time.