Everything you need to know to can salsa safely. Be confident that what’s in your pantry will be safe for friends and family to enjoy.
Here’s a summary of the key Do’s and Don’ts to can salsa safely based on information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
My Go To Salsa Canning Recipe: Tomato Salsa with Paste Tomatoes – National Center for Home Food Preservation
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. Or you can click directly to any of these sites.
National Ctr for Home Food Preservation
Why is it Important to Can Salsa Safely?
The issue with canning salsa is that salsa contains many low acid ingredients. Even the tomatoes in salsa can vary greatly in acidity and are considered borderline low acid when it comes to canning.
Without the addition of the correct amount of acid, salsa is considered a low acid food. Low acid are not safe to can in a hot water bath canner due to the potential threat of 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.
The good news is, it is easy to eliminate the risk of Clostridium Botulinum. You just need to add acid to make your canned goods unpleasant for this bacteria. How much acid to add is critical. Instead of guessing at the right amount of acid – use a tested recipe. Tested recipes have been tested for taste AND for acidity levels so that you can feel confident that your salsa will be safe. No guessing, no worries, no hesitation.
How Much Acid Is Needed?
Food should be at a pH of 4.6 or lower in order to be safe for water bath canning. Adding canned lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar is a way to add acid to low acid foods like salsa. Exactly how much to add to each jar varies based on the mix of ingredients in your salsa recipe. That’s the benefit of credible, tested recipes – they tell you exactly how much acid is needed based on the research they’ve done. Don’t guess how much acid is needed – just follow a tested recipe.
While we can make a few changes to a tested recipe (see above chart) it’s important to keep the overall proportion of acid to non-acid ingredients.
Can I test Acidity or pH at Home?
Yes, it is possible to test the pH (acid level) at home, but for most home canners it is not very practical, easy or affordable.
Two ways to measure acidity is with Litmus Paper (paper pH strips) or with a pH meter. Here’s a comparison of the two methods from sciencing.com.
When testing the acidity of pH, it’s important to test the liquid and any chunks that are in your salsa. If you choose this route, be sure to let the salsa rest for 12-24 hours and to puree the chunks so you get an accurate measure. Here’s what the pH paper manufacturers say about testing salsa.
And, if you’re using pH meters, remember to calibrate your machine according to the manufacturers instructions.
If this sounds too complicated, use a tested recipe from my favorite salsa recipes.
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.
Can I Pressure Can Salsa Instead of Using a Hot Water Bath?
Pressure canning is usually an option for low acid vegetables. However, I haven’t found a tested recipe for pressure canned salsa. So, there’s no recommended processing time available. And following tested processing times is an important rule of safe canning. You can’t just make up times and acid levels if you want to be truly safe.
I suspect there are no tested recipes because the processing time required would overcook the salsa and lead to a poor quality product.
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 why 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, the recommended processing time is likely two or three times longer than processing cooked salsa. 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 – 60 minutes at least. And that’s before you start the processing time. It would take nearly two hours on the stove, much better to the cook the salsa.
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.
National Ctr for Home Food Preservation
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.