Is my salsa safe to can?

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By Vicki Hayman

If you have a garden full of tomatoes, you may be getting ready to make a batch of home-canned salsa. This is a great way to capture the delicious flavors of summer; however, before you get started, there are a few things you should know to make sure your salsa is safe for canning.

Most salsas are a mixture of tomatoes, peppers, onions and other veggies and herbs. Some salsas even use fruits, such as mangoes or peaches. Most of these ingredients are naturally low in acid, so it is important that your recipe includes enough acid, such as lime juice or vinegar, to bring the pH down to 4.6 or below. Overall pH is what determines if a product is safe to be processed in a boiling water canner. If a salsa is not adequately acidified to a pH of 4.6 or below, then processing in a boiling water canner will not provide enough heat to prevent the growth of the deadly botulism bacteria. 

Sufficient, carefully calculated amounts of vinegar or another acid is necessary for acidification. Without detailed knowledge of the ingredients, proportions, and procedure used in a salsa recipe, there is no way to tell if the product is safe for boiling water canning. Only use scientifically tested recipes for canning!

If you have a special recipe, it is best to prepare and eat it fresh. If you want to preserve an original salsa recipe for later, freezing is the only safe option. Some equipment and home preserving ingredient manufacturers also offer more recipes to try, but first do some research to find out if they are indeed reliable companies with tested recipes.

For approved salsa recipes, use the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving”, the “So Easy to Preserve Book” from the University of Georgia, the “USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning” or “Preserving Food in Wyoming” at the UW Nutrition and Food Safety website — http://www.uwyo.edu/foods/educational-resources/food-preservation.html.

If you want a quality product, make sure you use ripe but not overripe or spoiled tomatoes for canning. Some recipes even call for green or underripe tomatoes. Using overripe or diseased tomatoes is also a safety issue because these fruits are less acidic, and the recipe you are using may not have enough acid (vinegar, lemon or lime juice) to make it safe. All tomatoes need to be acidified.

Do not add any ingredients beyond those given in the tested recipe. It is safe to double or halve a salsa recipe, but it is not safe to add other vegetables. If you want to add things like black beans or corn to your salsa, do it just before serving. Adding thickeners and ingredients not included in the recipe before canning can result in unsafe product. If your salsa is too runny, you can add a thickener like cornstarch or tomato paste after opening the jar, or you can just pour off some of the liquid before serving.

One type of pepper may be substituted for another. However, do not increase the amount of them in the recipe. Red, yellow or white onions may be substituted for each other; still do not increase the total amount of onions in any recipe. The amount of dried herbs and spices can be altered. It is not safe to increase the amounts of fresh herbs or garlic before canning because they affect the acidity level and produce an unsafe salsa. For stronger flavor, add fresh herbs, garlic, and spices just before serving.

If your recipe calls for vinegar, make sure you are using one that is at least 5% acid. If the recipe calls for lemon or lime juice, use bottled juice, not fresh. This is because the acidity in fresh lemon or lime juice can vary and could result in an unsafe product.

You can substitute an equal amount of bottled lemon or lime juice for vinegar in a recipe but not the other way around. Vinegar is less acidic than lemon or lime juice, so the substitution would result in an unsafe salsa. Never reduce the amount of vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice called for in a recipe. If the salsa is too tart for your taste, you can add a bit of sugar after opening to balance the flavor. 

Salt is not necessary for preservation in canned products. It can be added for flavor. It is recommended that you use a pure, refined canning salt to prevent cloudiness in the product.

Salsa is one of the most popular and most frequently canned foods. Homemade salsa can be a great gift to share with family and friends. Follow these tips to ensure safe canned salsa! 

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