NDSU Extension Service - Sargent County

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Salsa!

Salsa!It’s fun to be creative!  However, “getting creative” when canning salsa or other foods is NOT advised.  Rather, use only safety-approved recipes from credible sources, and follow the instructions precisely.  Credible sources will promote science-based food safety procedures.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation, universities or reputable food processing companies such as Ball would be sources of safe, credible recipes.  Steer clear of recipes found on websites with no credible backing, recipes in old cookbooks, and hand-me-down recipes, even if “nobody’s died yet.”

Using a pre-packaged salsa mix (Mrs. Wages is a familiar one) does not mean that it’s safe to add or subtract ingredients from the recipe that is printed on the package.  Making your own variations to the recipe may result in a product that is no longer safe and could in fact be dangerous or even deadly.  This is because safe food preservation is based on science and scientific principles. 

Food that is prepared or preserved using unsafe recipes or procedures can cause illness or even death.  One particular type of food poisoning that can result from improperly preserved foods is botulism.  The botulism toxin is colorless, odorless and tasteless. A person who has consumed food contaminated by toxin of the Clostridium botulinium bacteria might not experience symptoms until two days after they have eaten the food.  Even a tiny amount can cause illness.  The symptoms of botulism include weakness, dizziness, double vision, difficulty swallowing and later, difficulty breathing. Without prompt treatment, botulism can be fatal.

Botulism spores are all around us.  They are usually harmless, but when they are present on low-acid foods that are cooked and sealed inside a canning jar, the spores can become active and produce a toxin (poison) that affects the nervous system. 

Most vegetable are low-acid foods, as are meats and most mixtures of foods, also.  All low-acid foods must be pressure canned using accurate, reliable equipment to be safe. Low-acid foods should be processed at temperatures above boiling, which can only occur when a pressure canner is used.  It is not safe to process jars of low-acid foods in conventional ovens, water-bath canners, open kettles, microwave ovens, vegetable cookers, or dishwashers.  The foods should be processed in a pressure canner in the size of jar and for the amount of time that is specified in a credible recipe. 

Tomatoes are a special case. To be considered safe, all tomatoes canned at home must be made acidic by adding a measured amount of lemon juice or citric acid.  Since “salsa” is a mixture of foods, including low-acid foods, be extra diligent is finding and carefully following a credible recipe.  Avoid the temptation to “get creative.” Adding more onions or peppers, for example, will change the proportions and acidity of the mixture and affect its safety.  See http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for current recommendations and safe equipment to use when home-preserving foods.  Click on “Food Preservation” on that page. 

If you suspect that home-canned food has spoiled, heat the food to boiling to destroy possible toxin, then throw it away. Do not eat it.  Clean all surfaces with chlorine/water solution (one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water) that leaky containers may have contaminated. Boil any sponges or cloths that were used for clean-up, and then throw them away, too.

Photo Source: https://pixabay.com/en/salsa-nachos-mexican-appetizer-hot-840249/  (downloaded 7/11/17)


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