Can You Get Botulism from Homemade Salsa?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Can You Get Botulism from Homemade Salsa?” and will discuss how to know if homemade salsa has botulism or not.

Can You Get Botulism from Homemade Salsa?

Yes, you can get botulism from homemade salsa (1,2). Botulism may be contracted from homemade salsa that has been incorrectly preserved or kept.

Take it seriously: The paralyzing botulinum neurotoxins produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum can paralyze your muscles and can be deadly in severe cases (2,3).

Botulism can develop in your salsa during the process of home canning. Canns are ideal environments (low-acid, and low oxygen) for the proliferation of Clostridium botulinum (2,4 ).

You must be careful when sterilizing your can and during the processing (temperature and time) of your salsa to avoid any bacterial contamination (5-7)!

In most cases, spoiled canned food may be identified by bulging lids, but you should also check for any off-coloration or smell after opening the can, as will be explained in the next section.

Do not consume your salsa if you see any sign of bacterial contamination. Botulism is a serious disease! You must throw your salsa away once you notice any signs of bacterial contamination.

How can you tell whether your home-made salsa has botulism??

Here you can find three signs that can help you to determine if your homemade salsa has botulism:

  1. Check for bulging lids or containers: keep an eye on the container or lid of your homemade salsa. If you see that it is bulging, it may be a sign that C. botulinum or other anaerobic bacteria are present in your salsa producing gas (2).
  1. Look for abnormal color, texture or odor: If your salsa appears slimy, has a strange odor, or a color that is not normal for salsa, it may indicate bacterial growth. You should directly throw it away!
  1. Observe other signs of spoilage: If your salsa has been stored improperly or for too long (always label your home food properly with the preparation date), it may develop signs of spoilage, such as mold or yeast growth, discoloration, or an off taste or smell (4-8).

In addition, botulism may be detected in home-canned salsa by searching for the following signs:

·         Corrugated or bulging cans that have been broken, cracked, or leaked

·         opened food that has a poor appearance or smell

·         Opened items that squirt liquid indicate that there has been an excess of pressure.

·         Mold is visible when it has developed into visible growth.

Never use your tongue to test the safety of food! This is especially true if the item is stained, moldy, or otherwise revolting in any way. When in doubt, toss it away! 

You salsa should be thrown away if they show any signal of bacterial contamination or indications of poor canning (9-10).

Remember that sometimes your salsa may not show visible signs of botulism, still it could be contaminated. So, it is very important to follow safe food processing and handling practices (9) when preparing, storing, and consuming homemade salsa.

What is botulism and how is it contracted?

Botulism is a dangerous disease produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (2). This microorganism produces a potent neurotoxin called botulinum toxin, which could paralyze your muscles and can be fatal in severe cases (1).

If your home-made salsa was not properly canned or preserved, C. botulinum could grow and produce its neurotoxin as cans and containers are ideal environments (low-acid, and low oxygen) for its proliferation (2).

Even if you canned your home-sala by boiling or in a water bath at higher temperatures, the spores of the C.  botulinum can still survive and later proliferate, thus producing the fatal neurotoxin (6-7).

What are the symptoms of botulism poisoning and how to treat it?

The health risks of eating a home-made salsa contaminated with botulism are serious and it can be fatal (1)!

The neurotoxin produced by C. botulinum can cause paralysis of the muscles, especially those that control breathing, which can lead in severe cases to respiratory failure and even death (1).

Botulism can also cause fatigue, dizziness, and general weakness. You might also experience difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, blurred vision and paralysis in severe cases (1-2)

If you experience any of these symtoms after eating your home-made salsa, you should seek medical attention immediately!

Prompt medical attention can greatly improve your chance of recovery from botulism by treating you with the botulism antitoxin (1,10).

What are some tips for disposing homemade salsa contaminated with Clostridium botulinum?

You should act quickly if you suspect that your home-made salsa has botulism to reduce the risk of illness and to avoid spreading the toxin to other foods.

You should not consume your home-made salsa! Not even tasting it – it could be fatal (2)! just throw it away!

You should throw your contaminated salsa away in sealed and labeled bags. If you are not sure how to proceed you can always ask your local health department for getting the proper handling instructions.

Remember botulism is a serious disease, so take it seriously! 

How to safely store and preserve your home-made salsa?

Be sure that you are using the proper equipment to reduce the risk of botulism when preparing your home-salsa and preserving it in cans.

You should sterilize cans and lids and store them after preparation in a cool and dry place to avoid microbial growth (9).

Heating the food at higher temperatures could destroy the neurotoxin and kill the bacteria, but the process can be complex and may not always be effective (11). 

Low-acid foods, such as most vegetables and tomato salsa, should be canned in a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker’s intense heat is the only way to destroy botulism spores- they are extremely heat resistant! (6,7).

If spores remain, once they find the suitable conditions, C. botulinum will grow again and produce paralyzing neurotoxins, which can be deadly (2).

So, it is very important that you handle and prepare your food safely to prevent botulism and take proactive actions (10). They are always preferable to after-the-fact ones. 

We know that making your own salsa is also a lot of fun. So, here we provide some tips for safely prepare it:

  • Toss with a tablespoon of vinegar: You should use apple cider vinegar instead of regular vinegar if you can. 12 to 1 cup of apple cider vinegar should be plenty, depending on the size of your production. Lemon or lime juice also helps. As a result, the acidity will rise, making botulism infection less likely.
  • Use a canner to preserve them for up to three months: Warm the jars in a water bath canner or pressure cooker on the stovetop. Add warm water to the jars, filling them up to about an inch above the waterline.
  • DO NOT place the jars in water that is already boiling: The jars may fracture or even shatter if you put them in water that is already boiling. You would end up with a huge muddle and no salsa as a result. Set a timer for 45 to an hour and place the pot covered in the oven.
  • Avoid using an electronic pressure cooker for canning: They simply cannot withstand the heat required to keep microorganisms at bay.

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Can You Get Botulism from Homemade Salsa?” and discussed how to know if homemade salsa has botulism or not.

References

1. Fleck-Derderian S, Shankar M, Rao AK, Chatham-Stephens K, Adjei S, Sobel J, et al. The Epidemiology of Foodborne Botulism Outbreaks: A Systematic Review. Clin Infect Dis [Internet]. 2018 Jan 15 [cited 2023 May 6];66(suppl_1):S73–81. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/66/suppl_1/S73/4780431  

2. Ting PT, Freiman A. The story of Clostridium botulinum: from food poisoning to Botox. Clin Med (Northfield Il) [Internet]. 2004 May 5 [cited 2023 May 3];4(3):258. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15244362/  

3. Lawrence DT, Dobmeier SG, Bechtel LK, Holstege CP. Food Poisoning. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2007 May 1;25(2):357–73. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17482025/   

4. Tedley F. Causes of food spoilage and methods for food preservation. African J Food Sci Technol [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 24];11(4):1–2. Available from: https://www.interesjournals.org/articles/causes-of-food-spoilage-and-methods-for-food-preservation-52464.html  

5. Juneja VK, Huang L, Yan X. Thermal inactivation of foodborne pathogens and the USDA pathogen modeling program. J Therm Anal Calorim [Internet]. 2011 Apr 1 [cited 2023 May 3];106(1):191–8. Available from: https://akjournals.com/view/journals/10973/106/1/article-p191.xml  

6. Brown KL. Control of bacterial spores. Br Med Bull [Internet]. 2000 Jan 1 [cited 2023 May 3];56(1):158–71. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/bmb/article/56/1/158/388001  

7. Peleg M, Cole MB. Estimating the Survival of Clostridium botulinum Spores during Heat Treatments. J Food Prot. 2000 Feb 1;63(2):190–5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10678423/  

8. Huis In’t Veld JHJHI. Microbial and biochemical spoilage of foods: an overview. Int J Food Microbiol. 1996 Nov 1;33(1):1–18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0168160596011397  

9. Dudeja P, Singh A. Safe cooking practices and food safety in home kitchen and eating establishment. Food Saf 21st Century Public Heal Perspect. 2017 Jan 1;373–85. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780128017739000297  

10. Hurst WC, Reynolds AE, Schuler GA, Tybor PT. Preventing food poisoning and food infection [Internet]. University of Georgia; 2010 [cited 2023 May 3]. Available from: https://esploro.libs.uga.edu/esploro/outputs/9949316166102959?institution=01GALI_UGA&skipUsageReporting=true&recordUsage=false  

11. Moats WA. Kinetics of Thermal Death of Bacteria. J Bacteriol [Internet]. 1971 Jan [cited 2023 May 3];105(1):165–71. Available from: https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/jb.105.1.165-171.1971  

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