Recently there has been an influx of individuals, entrepreneurs, and small businesses that have joined in on the excitement of the hot sauce industry and have started making and selling sauce. Some recipes may be passed through the hands of generations and are now reaching commercial success. If you intend to bottle and sell your hot sauce recipe you must know what a safe pH is to deliver a protected hot sauce to consumers.
Hot sauce pH
The pH of a hot sauce needs to be lower than 4.6 to avoid the possibility of harmful bacteria thriving. Home canning or small business hot sauce processing should aim for a pH of about 3.4 to ensure there are not any discrepancies in practices during processing. The pH can be controlled with the ingredients that are used and tested throughout the process to ensure the hot sauce will be safe for consumption.
The hot sauce pH is a measurement of the acidity of the sauce versus the alkaline level. Most hot sauces will never reach extreme levels of acidity or alkalinity that will be harmful to the human body, but the pH must be between 3.4 and 4.6 to ensure bacteria will not thrive.
Ensuring your hot sauce is within range of a proper pH means that it will stay fresh longer before and after it is opened. This allows a product to stay on store shelves longer without compromising the quality of the product. It also ensures you are delivering a reliable and edible product to anyone who consumes it.
There are many steps or stages to making a hot sauce that needs to be taken into consideration before, during, and after it has been packaged. These practices should be constant and consistent and begin with making the sauce.
Making hot sauce
Only the freshest ingredients should be used to make hot sauce. Many hot sauce recipes, especially homemade hot sauce, begin with the use of fresh hot peppers. Even though much produce undergoes rigorous methods and inspections of ensuring the product is okay to eat it is still up to how the sauce is made to provide freshness. Rotten or overripe hot peppers can accelerate a bacterial process and alter the pH even before the sauce is made. Inspect all hot peppers for bruising, blemishes, spots, or smells that deemed them on the verge of not being fresh. This same process can be done with all the ingredients.
There are a few common ingredients in many hot sauces but the most common is the use of hot peppers or a derivative of them in powdered or dried form. Ingredients such as citric juices and vinegar or the acidity of tomatoes can prevent a hot sauce from oxidizing quickly.
A hot sauce does not last forever but the exposure to oxygen will accelerate a process of slow bacterial growth. The ingredients used are usually part of a recipe and adjusting them throughout the process will alter the flavor of the sauce. Additives can be included in a hot sauce recipe and this will preserve the sauce for longer periods but many can change the flavor of the sauce. Some preservatives are natural or derived from natural products whereas others may be manmade. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists many of these additives that are typically used for preserving hot sauce here and recognizes them as being safe. Whatever ingredients are used to make a hot sauce the sauce should be tested regularly throughout processing.
Testing pH levels
Testing the pH level of a hot sauce is essential in determining if the sauce will be safe to consume for long periods. Bottling a hot sauce outside of 3.4 to 4.6 on the pH scale will allow bacterial growth or decrease the period that the sauce will remain fresh.
Testing the pH levels of a hot sauce throughout the process can be an indication of what specific ingredient or process is raising or lowering the pH. Measuring the pH of a sauce is a simple procedure that can be done with a pH meter or testing strips.
Some factors such as the calibration of the meter, the temperature of the sauce, or unsanitary equipment can directly affect the outcome of the reading. Using and taking care of equipment properly will ensure pH readings are recorded correctly and a hot sauce will be safe for consumption before and after it is opened. A hot sauce can last for months unopened and even longer if it is refrigerated if the proper care and procedures are adhered to during processing.
General food safety for hot sauce
Preparing food items in a kitchen environment is important no matter what you are serving or packaging. The proper sanitization of equipment is just as important as providing a hot sauce with the proper pH level. Unclean equipment can provide an environment for bacterial growth even before a sauce is made. Unsanitary equipment can alter the pH level of a hot sauce after it has been tested and before bottling.
Bottling hot sauce
Bottles, containers, or other types of packaging used to store hot sauce needs to be properly sanitized to help control any bacterial growth. This only needs to be done before the hot sauce is bottled but needs to be done with the proper methods and in a controlled environment. Unlike a hot sauce, there is no way of testing bottles or equipment to determine if proper sanitization has been done but the proper methods still need to be adhered to.
Sanitizing bottles used for the packaging of hot sauce and disinfecting equipment used to make it are both important factors in delivering a safe hot sauce no matter what the pH level is. Equipment should be washed in hot soapy water and according to tazewellhealth.com the temperature should be between180o F and 200o F (82.2o C and 93.2o C). Any thing hotter will cause the water to steam off and will not provide the same sanitization. The same proper sanitization can be achieved with chemicals such as bleach that will kill harmful bacteria.
Any residue from chemical sanitizer or anything left un-sanitized inside a bottle can alter the finished hot sauce product. Even if you are meticulous about a hot sauce recipe careful pH testing, proper sanitation and proper storage must all be adhered to for a hot sauce to be considered safe for consumption.