Safety important when preserving homemade salsa

Last Updated: 
January 21, 2009

salsa photo courtesy of CSREES

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Many home canning enthusiasts like to make salsa, a tomato-based sauce or condiment that may include onions and peppers. Some salsa makers like to use favorite family recipes. Others vary their mixtures depending on what produce is available in their home gardens.

"If salsa isn't canned properly, harmful bacteria can grow in the jar and cause a severe type of food-borne illness called botulism," according to Carolyn Raab, OSU Extension food and nutrition specialist. Depending on the amounts and types of ingredients used, salsa might be low in acidity. Acidity determines whether or not salsa must be processed in a pressure canner.

If you plan to can salsa, use a recipe with a laboratory-tested processing recommendation. Tested recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation are available online.

"If you prefer to create your own salsa recipe, freeze it rather than can it," Raab said.

Some salsa recipes with added vinegar and a high proportion of tomatoes can be safely processed in a boiling water canner. Those with a higher proportion of vegetables other than tomatoes may need to be processed in a pressure canner. Temperatures reached while processing under pressure will kill Clostridium botulinum bacteria spores.

If you have home-canned salsa in your cupboard, evaluate its safety before eating it, Raab advises. That includes canned-food gifts.

"If the salsa wasn't made with a recipe tested in a laboratory, its safety is questionable," she said. "Examine the container and contents for signs of spoilage such as unusual sediment, spurting liquid when the jar is opened, or an off-odor."

If there are no signs of spoilage, boil the salsa for 10 minutes before eating for a margin of safety. Boiling destroys the Clostridium botulinum toxin, which is invisible. Spoiled salsa should be boiled and discarded.

For information about canning salsa and other foods, contact the OSU Extension Food Safety/Preservation Hotline from July 14 to Sept. 30 at 1-800-354-7319. The hotline is staffed Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., (except holidays). Trained volunteers and OSU Extension faculty and staff will answer your questions.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Carolyn Raab