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A Response to The Amish Cook's Salsa Recipe

By the Purdue University Agriculture Extension Department

It is important to recommend that consumers follow standard recipes from recognized sources like the USDA or Alltrista (Ball Blue Book). These recipes have been tested for safety. Consumers should be wary of recipes found on the Internet or in some publications if the source of the recipe or the degree to which it has been tested has not been disclosed.

The recipe that you have provided is similar to the recipes that have been given below; however, the recipe calls for Clear Jel. Clear Jel is a commercial thickening agent that may change the heating characteristics of the canned salsa. This means that when the jars are being boiled after they have been filled and sealed, that the heat may not penetrate to the center of the product and spoilage may result. Unfortunately, Clear Jel will affect the time that is required for the heat to properly penetrate into the center of the canned salsa. So, unless the recipe has been properly tested, we strongly recommend that Clear Jel not be used.

If the canned salsa has a pH higher than 4.6 after it has been in the jar for several weeks, then the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, may grow in this low oxygen environment. Botulism has claimed the life of at least one Indiana resident in the past 2 years. It is most frequently associated with improper home canning. To prevent botulism, low acid foods (pH > 4.5) need to be processed in a pressure canner for a predetermined amount of time.

If this salsa maintains a pH below 4.0 following 4 weeks of being held in the jar at ambient temperatures, then it can be processed with a boiling-water canner for again, a predetermined amount of time.

The Amish Cook's recipe does not specify the type of processing that is required after the salsa has been sealed in the jars. The recipe calls for 'cold pack' processing which is not standard terminology for canning. Two terms that are often used are 'raw packed' and 'hot packed.' 'Raw packing' is most often used with products that may easily fall apart during canning. Some products are 'hot-packed' by filling hot product into hot jars, then sealing and boiling in a boiling-water canner.

Without knowing the pH of the product after it has stabilized for several weeks or the effective penetration of the boiling water processing after the jars are sealed, it is impossible to determine whether this is a safe recipe.

Consumers that can foods in the home, should follow the directions carefully to avoid the possibility of foodborne illness. Home canning is not the best place to test one's creativity.

Ball Blue Book recipes:

Fiesta Salsa

7 cups chopped, seeded, peeled, cored tomatoes
2 cups chopped seeded, peeled cucumbers
2 cups chopped and seeded banana peppers
1 cup sliced green onion
1/2 cup chopped, peeled, roasted Anaheim peppers
1/2 chopped jalapeno peppers
1/4 cup minced cilantro
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water-canner. Yield: about 4 pints. Note: When cutting or seeding hot peppers, wear rubber gloves to prevent hands from being burned.

Jalapene Salsa

3 cups chopped, peeled, cored tomatoes
3 cups chopped jalapeno peppers
1 cup chopped onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
2 teaspoons oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 cup cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust 2-caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner. Yield: about 3 pints. Note: When cutting or seeding hot peppers, wear rubber gloves to prevent hands from being burned.

To obtain a copy of the "Ball Blue Book: Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration," contact the Alltrista Corporation, Consumer Affairs Department, P.O. Box 2729, Muncie, Indiana 47307-0729 or visit their web site http://www.homecanning.com/index.asp.

USDA Recipe

Chile Salsa (Hot Tomato-Pepper Sauce)

5 lbs tomatoes
2 lbs chile peppers
1 lb onions
1 cup vinegar (5%)
3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Yield: 6 to 8 pints

Procedure: Caution: Wear rubber gloves while handling chiles or wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face. Peel and prepare chile peppers by placing in oven (400F) or broiler for 6-8 minutes until skin blisters. Allow peppers to cool and peel each pepper, discard seeds and chop. Wash tomatoes and dip in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until skins split. Dip in cold water, slip off skins, and remove cores. Coarsely chop tomatoes and combine chopped peppers, onions, and remaining ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat to boil, and simmer 10 minutes. Fill jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process pints in boiling-water canner for 15 minutes (below 1000 feet elevation), 20 minutes for 1001-6000 ft elevation or 25 minutes for greater than 6000 ft elevation.

You can order a copy of the USDA's "Compete Guide to Home Canning," from Penn State at http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/Pubs/agrs55.html

For other questions, we recommend that you contact your local County Extension Office.