Everything you need to know to can salsa safely. If you’re going to go to all the work of canning homemade salsa, you might as well do it safely and be confident that what’s in your pantry will be safe for friends and family to enjoy.
In this post, I’ve summarized some of the key elements of how to can salsa safely. For quick, easy reference I’ve made the following chart on Canning Tomato Salsa. If you’re uncertain about anything in the chart, investigate further, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation or leave a comment and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
Chart or no chart, the best advice for easy, safe homemade salsa is to find a tested recipe. Just follow it step by step and you’ll be good to go without any calculations or worries. Easy peasy! I’ve listed my favorite recipes from trusted sites in My Favorite Salsa Recipes.
Why is it Important to Can Salsa Safely?
The issue with canning salsa is that there a lot of low acid ingredients in it. Even the tomatoes in salsa can vary greatly in acidity and are considered low acid when it comes to canning. And low acid foods are not safe to can in a hot water bath canner.
Low acid foods, like salsa (that has not had sufficient acid added), when canned in a hot water bath and especially when they have an air tight seal are perfect environments for pathogens like Clostridium Botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism which can be fatal (read more here). This bacteria thrives in high moisture, low acid, low salt and low oxygen environments like salsa.
However, it is fairly easy to eliminate the risk of Clostridium Botulinum. This bacteria cannot thrive in high acid environments. THAT IS WHY the correct level of acid must be added to every batch of canned salsa. The acid turns the salsa into a high acid food that is safe to process in a hot water bath.
How Much Acid Is Needed?
It is really hard to determine how much acid should be added to a random batch of salsa. Every salsa recipe is different depending on the acidity of the ingredients added and the proportion of each of those ingredients. That’s why every credible, reputable site will tell you to use tested recipes. These recipes tell you exactly how much acid is needed. They have done thorough testing, all we need to do is follow the recipe.
Our job is not to change the proportion of acid to non-acid ingredients.
An extra squirt of lemon juice is simply not good enough.
Can I test Acidity or pH at Home?
Testing the pH (acid level) at home, is not very practical, easy or affordable.
While accessible and not too expensive, pH strips are not precise enough to tell if your salsa is at a pH of 4.6 or lower.
Electronic meters that test for acid are expensive and challenging to use and maintain. They must be calibrated every time they’re used with various solutions.
Also, whether using a pH strip or electronic meter, when testing pH, you need to test the liquid and the inside of the food pieces. This means you need to create a slurry from bits of pieces from your salsa. And you need to do this test on the day you can it and several days after canning.
It really is just easier to use a tested recipe.
If I Have the Correct Acid Level, Do I Still Need to Hot Water Bath Salsa?
Yes. The hot water bath process creates a tight vacuum seal which ensures pathogens can’t enter the jar. It also takes care of other pathogens that aren’t affected by acid levels.
Here’s a step by step process for how to use the hot water bath canning method.
Because salsa is processed in jars for more than 10 minutes, jars do not need to be sterilized. While they don’t need to be sterilized, jars should be hot when filled so that the hot salsa goes in a hot jar which goes into the canner with hot water. Keeping everything the same temperature will prevent jars from cracking.
Do I REALLY Need to Bother, My Salsa Hasn’t Killed Anyone?
Yes, you really do! If you’ve been haphazard about canning your salsa, consider yourself lucky. But I wouldn’t push your luck.
Clostridium botulinum isn’t always present. Just like every time you drive a car you don’t get into an accident. But if it ever is present, which you would never know, safe canning is like having an airbag and seatbelt if you get into an accident. It will save your life.
Be smart. Can salsa safely.
What If I Have Canned Salsa that Doesn’t Quite Meet the Guidelines?
That salsa is at risk. There is no way to detect if Clostridium Botulinum is present.
If it is within 24 hours, you can empty the jars and freeze the salsa.
After that, there’s not much that can be done. Sorry, wish it were otherwise.
Why Does the Salsa Need to Boil Before Being Canned?
I haven’t found a tested recipe for raw or fresh salsa. If you do find one, it is likely that the recommended processing time is two or three times longer than cooked salsa. In essence, you’re boiling the salsa in the canner rather than in a pot. The result is a super long cooking time. Just think of the time it will take to get cold, raw salsa in a cold jar in cold water in your canner to come to a boil – 40- 60 minutes at least. (Remember, if you add cold, raw salsa to hot jars or a hot water bath, your jars have the potential of cracking – so you don’t want to do that.) Then once you reach the boiling point, you have to process it so that the very center of each jar reaches critical temperatures for the right amount of time, at least another 45-60 minutes. (THESE ARE JUST ROUGH ESTIMATES TO ILLUSTRATE A POINT DO NOT USE THEM AS A GUIDE!!!). You actually save time and money on your electrical bill by cooking your salsa first.
High temperatures are needed to destroy pathogens like E.coli, listeria, salmonella, etc.
What if I Don’t Like the Texture or Taste of Safely Canned Salsa?
First, try a different tested recipe. There are well over 20 different recipes in the three sites I recommend. There’s bound to be one that you like.
Second, as the chart shows, there are some safe alterations that you can make that will change the flavor of a recipe. Try some different herbs and spices. Mix and match pepper varieties or tomato varieties. Add a little sugar to take out the bite of acid. Mix lemon juice and lime juice to get a different flavor profile.
Third, touch up the canned salsa just before serving. Drain off extra liquid, add some more hot sauce or hot pepper flakes, add some fresh mango, chop in some fresh cilantro, serve with a wedge of lime, etc. You’re no slouch in the kitchen – use those skills once you open the jar of salsa. That’s the time to get creative.
Any way you slice it. To can salsa safely, there are certain procedures you just need to follow. Doing otherwise is putting you and your loved ones at risk. The choice is yours.
If you need more information, want to talk it through or want a demonstration, leave a comment or email me. I’d be happy to teach you or a group how to can salsa safely in your home or in a workshop. You can reach me at infoATgettystewart.com.
Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist, speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.