Follow guidelines to ensure safety of homemade salsa

September 12, 2003

CORVALLIS - Some people like it hot and spicy, others like it mild and mellow. Either way, homemade salsa is one of the most popular homemade foods. The arrival of fall, with home-grown tomatoes ripening in gardens across Oregon, signals the beginning of homemade salsa season.

Although some people consider salsa-making to be a creative art, it needs to be a science if you plan to can it, said Carolyn Raab, Oregon State University Extension Service foods and nutrition educator.

She advises homemade salsa fans to use laboratory-tested canning instructions and following them to the letter.

"You can't estimate a safe processing time for your salsa," said Raab. "Researchers base canning recommendations on the acidity of the salsa mixture. Although tomatoes are an acidic food, vegetables such as onions and chili peppers are low in acid. The proportion of vegetables and the amount of vinegar determine the acidity of the salsa mixture."

Low acid salsas must be processed in a pressure canner to destroy bacteria that cause botulism, a deadly type of foodborne illness, said Raab. There have been deaths in the Pacific Northwest due to people eating improperly canned salsa, she said.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria spores are present everywhere in the environment. They're more common on the West Coast, so there is less room for home canning errors here than in other parts of the country, according to Raab.

Washing vegetables may not remove the bacteria, so you have to assume that they're there and use safe home canning techniques to destroy them, she said.

"To guarantee that home-canned salsa is safe to eat, boil it for 10 minutes before eating it," Raab advises. "This destroys botulinal toxin. The same length of heating is needed in a microwave oven.

"If you enjoy creating your own salsa from end-of-the-season produce, plan to freeze it instead of canning it," Raab added. "You could also can crushed tomatoes and create salsa with seasonal vegetables throughout the year."

For more information on "Salsa Recipes for Canning" (PNW 395) visit our on-line catalog. Our publications and video catalog at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog shows which publications are available on the Web and which can be ordered as printed publications.

For additional salsa recipes see the "USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning" available on-line at the National Center for Home Food Preservation Web site at: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html
If you have questions about salsa making, contact the OSU Extension Service's Food Safety/Preservation Hotline at 1-800-354-7319. Certified volunteers and Extension Service staff will answer your questions Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Oct. 15.

Author: Bob Rost
Source: Carolyn Raab