My neighbor makes some really good hot sauce from peppers he grows in his garden. I am jealous! I have dabbled in growing my own hot peppers and making my own sauce for years…but I will admit it, his is better. He passes it along to friends and family and it is always on the table at festive gatherings.
Instead of using my own recipe for bottling and selling I am going to use his and concentrate on bottling, selling and distributing the sauce instead of taking the time to perfect my own sauce. I would like to see this sauce reach a large consumer demographic but first I need to know how to store it in containers per any health regulations in my area, FDA recommendations and also for longevity of the sauce.
How do I bottle and sell my home-made hot sauce?
A homemade hot sauce should be on the acidic side of the pH scale with a pH of about 3.4. If it is on the alkaline side of the scale it will need to be poured into the bottles at a temperature between 140 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit and then turned upside down until it is cooled. This is the hot fill and hold method used for filling glass woozy bottles.
Bottling a hot sauce for sale will take more than simply pouring it into 5-ounce woozy bottles, screwing the cap down tight and waiting for customers. The product needs to stay fresh in the bottle for months as it is distributed through your shipping channels that you will set up.
In addition, there could be serious health risks associated with the improper bottling techniques that could lead to Ebola or Salmonella poisoning. This blog post examines the proper methods of bottling your homemade hot sauce and explores the option of mass producing and selling hot sauce out of your home, but it all begins with the sauce.
Proper pH balance is important
A hot sauce will need to have a low pH level to prevent bacterial growth and will ultimately give it a longer shelf life. Read further on Why The pH Level Of Hot Sauce Is Important and read here on Understanding Hot Sauce pH at an in-depth level. The pH of a hot sauce should be about 3.4 pH. This is to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Vinegar helps preserve the sauce but depending on what the rest of your ingredients are, especially if there are other fruits and vegetables, the pH could rise.
The pH scale is a simple measurement tool with a range from 0 to 14 with the 7 being neutral. This scale is used for measuring soils, water or other food types and will have the same meaning. In this case it is measuring the pH or Potential Hydrogen in hot sauce which cause spoilage.
Hot Sauce Hell recommends the pH level of a homemade hot sauce to be about 3.4 but the FDA states that 4.6 or below will prevent bacterial growth.
Homemade hot sauce can have many variables between batches and home-based testing methods can skew the readings.
Testing for pH level
A pH meter or litmus paper can be used to test the pH balance of your sauce. The sauce should have a pH level below 4.6 per FDA recommendations (3.4 is ideal) but there are ways of lowering this. The pH meter will generally be more accurate than litmus paper but either one will work. Although litmus paper pH test strips would be less expensive, if you plan on preparing sauce for sale it is worth the small investment of a meter. Read the Best pH Meters here and How To Use a pH Meter Properly To Test Hot Sauce for more in-depth information on this subject.
Test hot sauce pH can be done with a simple low-cost pH meter or done in a laboratory with expensive high-tech equipment. I use a pre-calibrated hand held meter that can be purchased from Amazon here.
These meters cost under $20.00 each and produce results accurate enough to be confident with the reading. Other factors such as consistency of the recipe ingredients can raise or lower the reading slightly.
How to lower the pH of a hot sauce
Adding more vinegar, sugar and/or lemon and lime juice to an already existing recipe will bring the pH level down but it may also affect your recipe. If you have a hot sauce that you have perfected, and the next step is bottling then I wouldn’t attempt at lowering the pH level at this point. However, any foods with a pH level higher than 4.6 will require a more severe heat treatment during the bottling process or another method of storing such as refrigeration.
Once you have perfected your sauce (or have decided to steal your neighbor’s recipe like me) you will want to bottle it to save it and share it with friends. It can make great gifts or an opportunity to share it at a gathering. This is a great test market for your newest recipe, so you want it to appear presentable as well. If you are simply storing your sauce, there are alternate containers you can use. Need a recipe? Get over 50 Hot Sauce Recipes here!
Storing your hot sauce
You can store your hot sauce in just about any container, but I prefer the classic looking 5 ounce long neck bottle that most hot sauces come in called a woozy. You can purchase them here in a set of 6, 12 or 24 from Amazon. This is almost an automatic giveaway that your product is a unique condiment like hot sauce as this bottle type has become a distinguishable product but there are other ways of storing your sauce.
Use mason jars to store your hot sauce
Mason jars are easy to pour into and can be used in the future for storing other foods as well. I use these for a variety of things in my kitchen. Get a four pack of the 16 oz. size from Amazon here. Also, if you are limited in space, they are stackable as well.
These jars are clear glass so you can see the mixture consistency and color, which is great if you are fermenting peppers like the picture on the left. This is my go-to container when I am making a new recipe or experimenting with different flavors.
The final product will always go into a woozy bottle, especially if I am testing it out at a friend’s get together. Mason jars are stackable and can have multiple uses. I like them for hot sauce experiments and fermenting sauces as well.
Store your hot sauce in used condiment containers
Containers from condiments that you have consumed will work great for storing your hot sauce but make sure they are glass, especially if your sauce is very hot or you intend to store it for a long time. Usually pickles, relishes and smaller portions of condiments will come in small, glass containers. Wash the bottle and cap properly with hot soap and water and keep in mind that they will not be vacuum sealed as they were when you purchased them. If you plan on keeping them for any length of time you should sanitize them as well.
Keeping a hot sauce in a plastic container
You can store your hot sauce in plastic containers such a Tupperware or other name brand type containers with an airtight lid. The acidity of the hot sauce should not dissolve the plastic but if you are planning on using plastic containers to distribute and sell your sauce you will want follow certain procedures (see below) to sanitize and seal your bottles. However, some plastic containers can stain from certain types of hot sauce.
I will often use small travel size plastic containers if I have several varieties of sauces that I am working on. These are very inexpensive, available at most stores and don’t take up much storage space. As I have said before I don’t need to permanently store, sterilize or sanitize a plastic container for a sauce if I don’t care for the recipe. If you are planning on selling your homemade hot sauce plastic bottles can be cheaper than glass and much, much less expensive then custom shaped bottles.
A lot of sauces from small independent manufacturers have a unique bottle shape to them. If you have a select blend of peppers, spices and vinegar type you may want to seek out a unique bottle type to make your sauce stand out even more, if you are setting yourself up for a profitable business.
Consider this when you are bottling your hot sauce: Is it the final product I am going to distribute or am I storing it for my own personal use? If you are simply putting your sauce into containers for your own personal use there are many ways to store it (a few mentioned above) but if you plan on selling it you may want to consider some options.
Custom bottle manufacturing can get very expensive
Most hot sauces are produced in glass bottles and the reasons are that the methods of sanitizing are simpler and less expensive for smaller manufacturers. This would also be true of someone starting a hot sauce business from their home although the cost differences may not be as noticeable on a smaller scale. Read more in The Best Method and Machine For Filling Hot Sauce Bottles.
You can order custom bottle shapes, but this will increase the overall cost of your sauce and drive pricing up. Rockwoodglass.com has some outrageous looking bottle designs. Consider this as a marketing strategy if you have a unique blend or advertise where you sauce gets a lot of attention. The Generals Hot Sauce comes in a bottle the shape of a hand grenade. Not sure what that means exactly, possibly that you are facing death if you dare to consume it? It is definitely a novelty…and novelties sell! As mentioned previously, I prefer a 5 once glass woozy bottle like the ones sold HERE on Amazon.
Why is glass best for hot sauce?
There are some hot sauce manufacturers that sell their hot sauce in plastic containers; Sriracha, Yellow Bird and Secret Aardvark are some of the top sellers and there is no issue the plastic itself. These companies use UV technologies and sterilization processes using expensive machinery on a commercial level. If you are using the hot fill method where the temperature of the sauce is over 140 degrees Fahrenheit it could potentially melt the plastic, which is why the above manufacturers use alternate methods.
I use glass bottles for a variety of reasons. It is not the least expensive way of storing your sauce but the 5-ounce woozy bottles that I purchase are great for clearly seeing the contents and believe it or not they are very durable. If you plan to mass produce your homemade sauce, glass bottles could be one of the leading expenses. Here are the pros and cons of glass verses plastic bottles for your hot sauce.
Pros and Cons of plastic verses glass
|Glass||Environmentally friendly||More expensive than plastic|
|Appealing presentation||Very breakable|
|Easy sanitation methods|
|Plastic||Less expensive than glass||More difficult to bottle sauce|
|Cheaper shipping costs||Can’t hot fill|
What is the best bottle type for MY homemade hot sauce?
The decision between using glass or plastic will have to be made by you but as mentioned above I prefer the glass woozy bottles. Unfortunately, this classic style hot sauce bottle style may not make it stand out as a unique product, but they are readily available at a multiple of locations.
Where do I purchase empty hot sauce bottles?
There are many locations to purchase bottles for the storage and sale of your hot sauce and they will always get less expensive per bottle the larger the quantity that you buy. The BottleStore.com has a great collection of 5 oz or 10 oz woozy bottles for your hot sauce. I prefer the 5 oz as I am always experimenting with small batches. They can be purchased for about $.46 each and includes the top. Here is a link to Amazon for a starter kit of 14 bottles that includes a funnel, caps, shrink capsules and chalk board label.
The Glass Bottle Outlet has great deals on bottles including their featured product the Boston Round. This is a classic bottle shape and is available here in cobalt blue, amber of clear. They also have a variety of sizes from 2 oz to 32 oz. I like the wide mouth of the Boston Round for thicker sauces.
Now that you have selected the bottle type for your sauce you will have to follow some procedures to help with preservation and keep it fresh after it is open. If you are bottling your sauce to be sold, your local health department will have specific procedures that need to be followed but most jurisdictions within each state follow FDA guidelines.
Sanitizing the bottles
The proper sanitary methods for your utensils and bottles is extremely important no matter what bottle type you have chosen. All of your bottles, caps, utensils, and other pieces of equipment will need to be properly sterilized and there are several ways to do this. According to NASD (National Ag Safety Database) this could be done by boiling everything in water for 10 minutes or more. Use a pot large enough to hold ten or more bottles to sterilize as many bottles as possible. Make sure that everything is fully submerged under water. Remove them from the pot with a set of tongs and let them air dry.
If you are using plastic bottles for your hot sauce and are concerned with the plastic being distorted due to the boiling water, you may want to consider some other options or perform strict timing and temperature control when doing so. These other options can also be used for glass bottles as well.
Bleach and water
If you are using plastic bottles you will want to use a solution of water and bleach with only about 5 to 10 percent of the solution being bleach or 1 cup of bleach to 5 gallons of water. Read the details here from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) on sanitizing with bleach and water. I don’t like the smell of bleach and I almost always get some on my clothing and end up staining it but it is an effective sanitization method.
Steramine Sanitizing Tablets and other products similar are a bleach and boiling water alternative. Use one tablet per gallon of water, let it sit for at least 30 minutes and rinse thoroughly. The manufacturers recommendations may be different per product, but it should be included with the product. Make sure you read and understand the directions thoroughly.
Soaking the bottles in vinegar overnight and rinsing them in the morning will kill any bacteria. You probably already have this available as maybe it was used in your sauce. If the containers are rinsed properly the vinegar flavor shouldn’t reach the sauce. However, Healthline states that vinegar is only a limited disinfectant and isn’t registered with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) as a disinfectant.
If you are sanitizing on a much larger scale, you will want to use equipment that will move the process along much quicker. This equipment can cost thousands of dollars but increase your production and that itself will save time and money. Consider this if you have operations set up somewhere besides your home kitchen as you will need space for the sanitizing equipment.
Time to bottle!
If you are bottling your sauce in plastic bottles, then the sanitary methods above will be fine but if you are using glass and the pH is below 4.6 then the hot fill and hold method will need to be practiced and is quite easy to perform. Other methods such as refrigeration can also be used but this does get costly, especially on a larger scale. Knowing and Understanding the pH of Hot Sauce before you begin bottling is important and can determine how it stored and distributed.
Hot fill and hold
The hot sauce should be poured into the bottle at temperatures between 140 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit and then placed upside down. The high temperature helps with the pasteurization of the sauce and the inversion process will help the hot liquid to continue sterilizing the lid. If you don’t have a thermometer and are unsure how hot your sauce is when bottling keep this in mind: water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If you bring your sauce to a boil and bottle it quickly you should be ok. This method, as discussed above, may not always work for plastic bottles as it could distort the plastic OR get a thermometer here like the Kizen from Amazon.
Sealing your hot sauce bottles properly
Sealing your bottles may be an option to consider and will indicate to your consumers that the lid has NOT been tampered with. I have seen some sauces dipped in hot wax on the lid and then cooled but this could be a whole other operation.
Induction sealer come in many sizes for sealing off a few bottles or performing mass production. Most hot sauces that are purchased will have a cap liner. These can be purchased without a handheld sealer in many standard sizes. Get a pack of 50 by Cussing Cups through this link to Amazon.
How to seal homemade hot sauce bottles with a heat induction sealer
Many dressings and sauces that are purchased from stores will have a round plastic seal on the tube of the glass after you remove the plastic cap. This is applied with an induction sealer. There are many variations of this piece of equipment and the costs will vary depending on the number of bottles you plan to seal and cap at one time. Hand held sealers can be purchased for under a hundred dollars. Check out the Hand Held Induction Sealer from Kimtem.
The manufacturer of the equipment will provide instructions on how to operate their equipment, but the round seal is placed on the top of the bottle, the cap is then placed on and heat is applied. The top of the bottle should be sanitized and dry.
Finish off a hot sauce bottle with shrink bands
Shrink bands are the plastic perforated seals that are over the cap and extends to the neck of a bottle as seen on many hot sauces and medications. They are available to purchase through Uline and can be applied with a heat gun but again will be another process for your operations. If you are producing large quantities of hot sauce you will probably want to pursue equipment to make this process much quicker.
Shrink bands are typically purchased in large quantities of 1,000 or more and will cost just a few pennies each. These seals are only for tamper – evident packaging and do not seal the product from air, but it will give consumers the confidence your sauce is fresh.
Bottling machine with vacuum screw cap
There is machinery that will fill the bottle, seal them and cap them at a much larger capacity similar to what a large manufacturer of hot sauce does. These machines can fill and cap between 800 and 3000 bottles in an hour and can cost thousands of dollars. If you are successful at selling your sauce and anticipate it increasing this would be worth the investment.
Once you have selected the bottle type and have followed a sanitary method of bottling your sauce you can then set up the process of manufacturing of selling sauce from your home. This is done by many people and proves to be successful if you follow the correct guidelines.
Understanding Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines
The FDA web site on How to Start a Food Business states that local and county health agencies will inspect food service establishments. You will need to contact your local health authority to find out any permits, insurance needs or other health regulations you need to follow. The list of regulations could vary from county to county and would be too large to include on this blog post but here is the link to state by state regulations.
Some jurisdictions allow for a Home Processor Exemption if you plan on making food out of your kitchen for reasons of selling product. However, hot sauce is listed as one of the foods that is prohibited from a Home Processor Exemption in most states therefore the FDA regulations will need to be adhered to.
Food Service Establishment Permit
A Food Service Establishment Permit is available through the county per the state you live in and will be needed if you are processing sauce in your home kitchen. This is not easy information to find and I would recommend emailing the department in your county. This reminds me a lot like working in construction. You can have a full team of architects, engineers, construction managers and developers all providing their input but if you don’t please the local inspector, you are done.
The permit that I applied for in New York State is only a few pages long and there isn’t a cost for first time applicants. No license is received until physical inspections of the preparation area have been completed, and have passed their inspection requirements.
If you are not selling food out of your state, you are not subject to the FDA regulations and you may not have to register as a facility. However, if you are expanding sales outside of your state or if you plan on selling your hot sauce online you must register as a facility.
Selling at a market
Farmers markets are not regulated by the FDA therefore would be an easy place to start selling your product. These local locations are a great place to start selling your locally produced sauce. Aside from bypassing the FDA regulations, you may already have some connections from local farmers you have been buying hot peppers from.
Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
You will need to apply for an EIN and this can be done in a few minutes and there are not any costs for applying. An EIN is an Employer Identification Number or Federal Tax Identification number and will be used to identify your business for tax purposes. Many states will allow the use of a social security number in place of the EIN.
Get a bank account and credit card
Bank accounts and credit cards for your business will be necessary as your business grows. You should open these accounts now if you have tested your product, set up distribution channels and are confident you can sell large amounts. If you are making sauce in your kitchen and selling out of your home this may not be necessary, but you can apply for a business account through your bank.
If you have a great tasting product it should sell itself. While this is true you will need to follow some typical procedures to ensure you are providing consumers with a top-quality satisfying product without any health related risks.
Labeling hot sauce bottles
Labeling can be done in your home or you can have a company do it for you. You will need to follow the Food and Drug Administration labeling requirement, but it is a very long and extensive document to review. Download the FDA Labeling Guide here. The basics of what needs to be included are the product display, ingredients and nutrition. The PDP (Principal Display Panel) on the front and the nutrition information on the back, as typically seen on most products in stores. Read the basics of FDA labeling requirements here.
Label your own bottles
Machines from Taishi are semi-automatic and cost around $350. If you are inconsistent with the number of bottles you fill then you will want to invest in a product similar to this. Machines like these will give your product a professional looking appearance and save time to make more sauce but you will still need to purchase labels.
Outsource your labeling
Companies like Uprinting or Vistaprint can print labels to include the PDP and the nutrition label for $.015 a label. You would have to provide the process of attaching the label or do it by hand depending on the level of operations or amount of sauce you are selling.
Making and bottling hot sauce is very easy to do in your own home but if you plan on selling out of your home or expanding your operations it will take the proper equipment and the proper procedures. Good Luck!
Download the Cost of Sauce
If you are ready to sell your homemade hot sauce but have not determined the sale price than you NEED the Cost Of Sauce! This Excel spreadsheet will determine the price point for your hot sauce to maximize potential profits. Download below.
Guide To The Hot Sauce Business
Instant PDF download!
Get the paperback on Amazon HERE!
How To Start A Hot Sauce Business