Master Food Preserver is a certification that people can earn designating that they have undergone and passed training and courses in modern, up-to-date methods of food preservation.
These people are advanced canners, qualified to give advice and act as volunteers for safe home canning.
Master Food Preservers: A Uniquely American Qualification
A Master Food Preserver appears to be a certification offered uniquely in America.
A Master Food Preserver is a person who goes out into the community as a volunteer to help train other people how to safely preserve food at home.
To become a Master Food Preserver, a person receives extensive, in-person training in the latest technology and information available in the field of home food preservation. This is done either in a block of all-day sessions, or over a period of weeks and months. In return, this person agrees to become an ongoing volunteer in the field of safe home preserving through their local University’s Extension office, doing tasks such as “answering phone calls, developing and hosting exhibits, judging at competitions, etc.” 1
The fine details of the agreement may vary by state. For instance, with the University of California, you “commit to completing 30 volunteer hours and 15 continuing education hours every year.” 2
Here is the “job” description for Washington State.
The courses that a Master Food Preserver candidate takes are “train the trainer” courses. You don’t just learn now to can safely as an end user. You learn the why, what resources to use to keep up to date, and how to go out and “spread the gospel” of safe canning.
Master Food Preserver course locations
Fees varying by institution offering the program.
- University of Arizona (“Master Food Volunteer”)
- University of California, Los Angeles
- University of California
- University of Colorado
- Cornell (periodically)
- University of Hawaii
- Kansas State (“Master Food Volunteer”)
- University of Kentucky (“Master Food Volunteer”)
- University of Maine (and more info here )
- New Mexico (revived spring 2016)
- Oregon State University
- Penn State
- Purdue University (Indiana)
- Texas A & M
- Virginia (“Master Food Volunteer”)
- University of Wisconsin
- Washington State
Not all extensions in all areas offer the course. Some have stopped, owing to lack of resources.
Associated: Slow Food Preservers Los Angeles (See history section)
Ohio State: We checked with Ohio State Extension in June 2018. They replied that they do not offer a Master Food Preservers course, and have no plans to do so in the future. They do, however, offer a Master Gardeners Program.3
Other Similar Certifications
Other countries don’t seem to offer anything like this certification. They only offer full multi-year full-time degrees to people who want to work professionally in the commercial canning industry.
That being said, there are at least two other seemingly similar training opportunities out there:
Background information about the program
The University Cooperative Extension Services offer the Master Food Preserver programs through state or county-run offices. Elizabeth Andress, head of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, was interviewed about the program:
Extension sees a master program as volunteer development,” explained Elizabeth Andress. “In exchange for this intensive training and constant updating and education, we consider the people we train as volunteers who will then give something back to Extension, whether it be manning exhibits, writing newspaper columns, taking phone calls in the office or whatever.” Andress sees the expectations of the master programs as one of a kind, in that the volunteers are invested in sharing their information and developing community knowledge on the subject. She understands why, because of budget constraints, many extension offices are dropping their Master Food Preservers certification programs.
“You can’t run a Master Food Preserver program in your state if you don’t have the expertise to back it up and answer people’s questions and train them appropriately,” she said. Her state has 159 counties, but only 35 family and consumer science agent positions serving them.
“I have lots of individuals calling me, (and saying) our extension office no longer offers Master Food Preserver, or there’s no agent in our county, so I’m teaching classes, which I think is great and shows the interest,” said Andress. “Sometimes I’m a little bit concerned about what they’re teaching because obviously, me being in the job I’m in, I really care that people teach the best practices with some research-based recommendations and don’t just proliferate what people did 80 years ago.” 5
History of the Master Food Preserver Program
The Master Food Preserver program started in the second half of the 1970s.
Washington State was offering it by 1976.
Pennsylvania joined the program in 1988, under the direction of Dr Gerald Kuhn, who also pioneered the first USDA Complete Guide.
In the late 1990s, many areas cancelled the program owing to lack of interest: “In 1997, the LA County program had just nine students; citing lack of interest, the University of California Cooperative Extension office canceled the program.” 6
The Master Food Preservers program has since been revived in some areas in pace with the revived interest in home canning.
In Colorado, it’s been called ” Master Food Safety Advisor” since 2006.
The Los Angeles program was revived independently as Slow Food Preservers Los Angeles, still adhering to Master Food Preserver guidelines.
Busch, Mary. Success Stories: Preserving with Confidence. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. April 2011.
Halloran, Amy. Preserving the Art of Canning Safely at Home. Seattle, Washington: Food Safety News. 26 April 2011.
Reinhardt, Christianna. Master Food Preservers: Getting Canned. KCET News. 10 October 2011.
Abigail Snyder to Randal Oulton. 19 June 2018. Email on file. ↩
“Another organization that’s taking on the business of teaching people to safely can is Seattle Tilth, a gardening education group that is now offering a Master Food Preserver Course. Extension offices stopped offering Master Food Preserver courses in Western Washington, and Seattle Tilth got permission to use the term, and offer its own certification. A pilot course last year was successful.” Halloran, Amy. Preserving the Art of Canning Safely at Home. Seattle, Washington: Food Safety News. 26 April 2011. Accessed March 2015. Note that sometime after 2011, however, Seattle Tilth changed the name of the course to “Certified Food Preserver.” ↩