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Can You Get Botulism from Homemade Salsa? (Yes, if you . . . )

Homemade salsa is hands down the best salsa. You can buy the best of the best from the grocery store, but it will never be as good as homemade salsa. However, if you want to make it in large batches for canning, you might wonder can you get botulism from homemade salsa?

As a general rule, it is possible to get botulism from homemade salsa if it was improperly canned or improperly stored. Canned food that has gone bad can usually be detected by bulging lids, but additionally, upon opening, look for any off-color or smell.

Those are also signs of improper canning and should be thrown away to prevent food poisoning.

So how do you know if your home cans have botulism? Can it be killed off by cooking? What is the proper way to preserve salsa? I’ll answer all of these questions and more.

Just keep reading!

How do I know if my home cans have botulism?

Detect home canning products with botulism by looking for:

  1. Cans that are damaged, cracked, leaking, or swollen
  2. Any food that looks or smells bad when opened
  3. Items that spray liquid when opened indicating excess pressure has built up
  4. Visible signs of mold

We’ve all seen packaged products from the store that have bulged lids, or otherwise, look like a balloon that’s about to pop. Those are sure signs that something has gone wrong and tossing those items is the best thing to do.

Botulism is a toxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum Typically, the toxin and the bacteria are found in home-canned foods that have not been properly prepared.

Illness from botulism can happen within a few hours or up to 10 days after eating foods containing the toxin. Botulism can make you very sick. If you suspect you have botulism, you should go to the hospital immediately. (source)

Unfortunately, you cannot see, smell, or taste botulism. According to the CDC, even a small taste of food containing botulism can be deadly.

Never taste food to determine if it is safe. Particularly if it is discolored, moldy, or smells bad.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to any food is when in doubt, throw it out! If the container or the food inside has any signs of contamination, throw it out.

Just like homemade salsa, Indian Pickle, which is a sort of relish, will display some of these same problems when it goes bad.

Read this recent article to read about the best ways to preserve Indian Pickle. As long is it is cooked, packaged, and handled properly, it will last a very long time.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Can you kill botulism by cooking?

As a general rule, botulism in food can be killed by heating it to temperatures greater than boiling (212 degrees Fahrenheit) for 5 or more minutes. But do not eat food with visible signs of mold, even if later cooked at a high temperature.

But, low acid foods, like most vegetables, and even some tomatoes should be canned in a pressure cooker.

Botulism spores can only be killed by the high heat that can be obtained in a pressure cooker. Additionally, home-canned foods should be boiled for 20 minutes before eating. (source)

If you spill contaminated food, clean all surfaces with a chlorine/water solution. Then boil any cloths used to clean up the spill, or throw them away.

Preventative measures are always better than reactive measures, though.

When home-canning any foods, strict hygienic practices should be followed to reduce contamination. Always use clean, sanitized, and dry jars, lids, and utensils when canning at home.

If I add vinegar to my homemade salsa will it go bad?

Not at all.

In fact, vinegar is not only a preservative but can help prevent botulism spores from producing.

Salsa is preserved by adding some sort of acid. It can be either lemon or lime juice or vinegar. But here in Texas, we will make fun of you if you use anything other than lime juice.

The natural acidity in salsa may not be high enough to prevent the growth of botulism. Adding vinegar will increase the acidity, preventing the growth of botulism. (source)

If you have some really old open bottles of wine in your fridge, but no vinegar it may be a good time to use them.

After a bottle of wine has been opened for more than 3 days, it starts to get more acidic and “vinegary” in flavor. Who knows, it may make an interesting flavor profile to your homemade salsa.

If adding wine to your salsa doesn’t sound like something you want to try, but you do have an old bottle of wine that you don’t want to throw away, check out this recent article. You may be surprised to learn that you can still cook with it!

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How do you know if homemade salsa is bad?

The signs of homemade salsa being bad include significant discoloration, changes in smell, visible mold, and any leaking or swelling of the jar’s lid.

If it’s color is too dark and more maroon than bright red, it’s probably bad. If it’s mushier than you expect it to be or emits a foul smell, throw it out.

Look for mold or anything that just doesn’t seem right about it. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out.

Just like salsa, and most other properly canned goods, Thai curry paste will keep for a very long time. But, once it’s opened, it is the freshest when used within two weeks.

Just read this recent article about how long Thai curry paste will keep, and the 1 trick to extend the life by months.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How do you preserve homemade salsa?

Making and preserving salsa can be very time-consuming. But it is also very rewarding. It really is delicious and you’ll love always having some on hand.

It can be really fun to make, too. And the best part is that you know exactly what’s in it. No artificial ingredients or sweeteners. No MSG and no weird preservatives.

So you’ve done all of the chopping and prepping. You’ve got tons of delicious homemade salsa. You’re certainly not going to be able to eat it all at once.

So how do you preserve it?

1. Add some vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a good choice. Depending on how big your batch is, ½ to 1 cup of apple cider vinegar should do the trick. Lime (or lemon) juice works too. But you may find it less economical.

This will help increase the acidity, reducing any chance of contamination of botulism.

2. Leave 1/2 below the top of the jar 

When you pour it into your mason jar for canning, leave ½ inch of space at the top.

Making sure there isn’t any salsa on the rim will help ensure a tight seal.

Before you seal it up, wipe the rim of the jar with a clean, damp paper towel. That should not be the nearby kitchen towel you just wiped your hands off on. This needs to be 100% sanitary!

3. Place them in a canner

Using a water bath canner or stovetop pressure cooker, carefully place the jars in warm water. Cover the jars with more warm water until there is about one inch of water over the jars.

But I have also used a giant pasta cooker pot before to can salsa too.

4. DO NOT place the jars in water that is already boiling

This could cause the jars to crack or even break. Then you’d have a giant mess and no salsa. Sad face.

Cover pot, and allow it to boil for 45 minutes to an hour.

5. Do not use an electric pressure cooker, such as the Instant Pot, for canning

They just can’t hold the kind of heat necessary to prevent bacteria growth. Even though some brands talk about canning, the FDA does not recommend any electric pressure cooker for canning. (source)

That’s it.

You want to make sure the jars have a nice seal. You know how baby food and spaghetti sauces have the warning that if the lid is popped, you should discard?

It’s the same thing here.

If the top is nice and smooth, without the “bubble,” it’s properly sealed. If it pops, it’s not sealed well and you’ll need to go back to the canner pot.

Finally, store your jars in a dark, cool place. They should keep for a year. Once it’s been opened, it should be refrigerated.

Final thoughts

Botulism is a toxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum.  Typically, the toxin and the bacteria are found in home-canned foods that have not been properly prepared.

Fortunately, it is rare and can be destroyed with high heat and proper canning methods. Adding vinegar to your salsa will not only preserve it but can actually prevent the growth of botulism spores.

Practice proper hygiene and sanitation when canning, and you should be able to enjoy your delicious salsa!

Jeff Campbell


Friday 18th of September 2020

Do you know of a good trusted way to test pH of canned salsa? I followed a recipe that called for onions peppers and also a premix store bought spice package and have since been told adding ingredients to this package may not be safe. The package is for salsa but only called for tomatoes.

Jeff Campbell

Friday 18th of September 2020

Hi Kari

I've never tried it, but I don't see why a pool or hot tub test strip, which checks for pH among other things, wouldn't work. Personally, I don't think I'd add a lot of dried spices to salsa, just salt and pepper mostly. Maybe cumin. But I'd rather use fresh onion, garlic, peppers, and cilantro (if you like that) to the tomatoes and let that flavor come through.

Hope that helps!



Monday 31st of August 2020

Hello. I made a spicy salsa yesterday and was under the impression I could process them in the oven in a large tray of water which covered the jars about half way. 350 degrees preheated oven. Left them in for 20 minutes. Recipe called for 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar for the 8 pints. They sealed too. Do I need to toss them?? Thanks

Jeff Campbell

Tuesday 1st of September 2020

Hi Terri

Thanks for the comment. I've never used the oven for canning before, so bear that in mind. Offhand, it sounds like they sealed fine, and assuming it was tomato-based, with that amount of vinegar, they really should be fine.

Plus if they later do start to spoil, those signs are easy to spot; bulging lid, the sound of air escaping when you open it, bad smell, and discolored salsa. I suppose if you wanted to really play it safe, though, you could refrigerate them. But it sounds like they should be fine.



James Murray

Sunday 30th of August 2020


I read your article because I just made some mango-pineapple salsa that I'm disappointed with. Followed the recipe and the salsa was about 25% vinegar. It's hot & sour instead of hot & fruity.

So, I'm curious what percent of vinegar (5% acetic acid) should be present in salsa to keep it safe from botulinum toxin. Perhaps this depends on what kind of salsa (peach, tomato, pineapple, etc.), as different fruits/vegetables have different acidities.

But, in general, might 5% vinegar (by volume) suffice, rather than 25%?

Any thoughts?


- James

Jeff Campbell

Sunday 30th of August 2020

Hi James

Sorry it didn't turn out the way you wanted! I typically use lime juice myself. But apple cider vinegar could be OK too. Let's say I was making a gallon of it and it was mostly tomatoes and chili peppers. I would probably start with about 1/4 cup to begin with. Then I would taste it (obviously with a clean spoon and no double-dipping). If it was starting to get sour, I'd probably leave it. Tomatoes and chili peppers are naturally acidic, so you don't need a ton of it. But you could probably go up to 1/2 cup.

Now mango-pineapple is different, of course, as it's fruit-based instead of tomato-based. So it will naturally be a lot less acidic to start with. For that, I do think lime juice would taste better than vinegar. But a white wine vinegar might also taste better than white or apple cider vinegar.

In terms of preventing botulism, do bear in mind that despite my having taken many food safety classes over the years, I am not a scientist or food-safety expert. But assuming you followed all the normal sterilization processes with your jars and equipment, and canning processes, I would still lean towards between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of vinegar or lime juice per gallon of the finished product. And again, I would add that in small increments and taste along the way.

Ultimately, I'd rather have a great tasting salsa with a slightly shorter shelf-life than something that was way too sour. And the signs of botulism are pretty easy to spot, so the danger of eating it and not knowing is fairly small.

Hope that helps!