Recently I was fortunate to interview Lizann Powers-Hammond, Regional Specialist for Washington State University Benton County Extension, about the Master Food Preserver Program. Lizann exemplifies the title of expert. She has earned several degrees; BA Vocational Home Economics, BS Human Nutrition, MS Home Economics with a Human Nutrition option and is currently working on her EdD degree, has been teaching the Master Food Preserver Program for 23 years and has been instrumental in continuing to update the curriculum to current standards. As someone who took the Master Food Preserver course from Lizann several years ago, I can testify that she is what we wish all our teachers were; smart, funny, engaging, and very very passionate about her subject matter!
What is the Master Food Preserver Program?
LPH: It is an Extension volunteer outreach education program, much like the 4-H and Master Gardener programs. Master Food Preserver is much broader than canning. It also includes safe handling for all food, and home food preservation and processing.
How and when did the Master Food Preserver Program start?
LPH: The Master Gardener program started in Washington State and was wildly successful. So the Extension looked at other areas of outreach. At the time (mid 1970s) lots of people were involved in food preservation. King County extension held the first training in 1976, followed by Yakima County. The Program just took off from there.
During the past 10 years there have been fewer courses taught. This is mostly due to position loss as Extension Specialists retire and aren’t replaced.
Is the Master Food Preserver Program offered in other states?
LPH: There are several other states who offer the program or who are reviving the program due to increased interest in food preserving. Many states use the materials we develop here in Washington. Some states call their programs by other names, e.g. Food Safety Advisors or Family Food Educators.
(Ed. Note: I found what appeared to be active programs in California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New York, Utah, Maine, and Wisconsin. Although each program follows the same basic guidelines, the registration cost and required volunteer hours differ. Anyone familiar with these or other programs please contact us in the comments section! We would love to hear about your experiences and maybe put together a listing.)
What do you see as the biggest benefit of the Program?
LPH: Every trained Master Food Preserver acts as a multiplier, each reaching a circle of influence. Their social networks gain informal education they might not otherwise receive.
It is also wonderful to watch the volunteers change and gain confidence as they learn to teach becoming citizen scientists.
What do you recommend for people who don’t have access to either the Master Food Preserver Program or trained Master Food Preservers?
LPH: Keep in mind that there is no regulatory agency in this area, anything can be posted online and it may not be safe information. The best sources of information include the National Center for Home Preservation, some of the equipment manufacturer’s sites like Ball/Kerr jars and Presto. You can also always call your local county extension office. Other than that, check the writer’s credentials. And remember, just because you haven’t had any problems with a particular recipe or process in the past, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
What is the main thing you would like people to know about food preservation?
LPH: A sealed jar is not necessarily a safe jar. In home preserving, processing makes it safe, the seal keeps it safe. You can’t tell if the product is safe just by looking.
Join us again later in the week when Lizann and I discuss the upcoming training here in Benton County.