On my Youtube channel as well as on this website, I talk about and demonstrate various sauces and recipes. Some of these are my own invention and some are modified versions of published recipes.
I would hope that people know that my videos are edited! If I just switched the camera on and filmed my entire process for making a hot sauce, people would not be watching for very long. I try to make my videos entertaining, which means I leave out some of the more tedious aspects of my food prep. This article aims to talk through some of these elements that I leave out of my videos as well as some food safety basics.
Cleaning, Sanitising and Sterilising
Sterilisation is the process of making something free from ALL bacteria or other living microorganisms. Sanitisation is the process of making something free from MOST bacteria or other living microorganisms.
For our purposes we need to Clean and Sanitise. Sterilisation is a bit overkill, but feel free to do it!
Cleaning involves removing debris and dirt but not necessarily harmful bacteria. This could be as easy as putting your equipment in the dishwasher (if it is dishwasher safe). I don’t think I need to teach you how to clean things! When cleaning I go with a combination of cleaning and sanitising at the same time.
After you have cleaned everything you will need to sanitise. Possibly the cheapest way to sanitise your equipment is with diluted bleach. Mix up 4ml of unscented bleach per litre of water (1 tbsp per gallon). Soak everything in the solution for 20 minutes then rinse it all off with fresh water and let it all dry. Don’t forget to sanitise and clean anything that your food/peppers/vegetables etc. come into contact with like your work surfaces and your hands!
I personally don’t use bleach, I use something called VWP (which is something I started using when I started homebrewing). Follow the instructions on the tub.
You might notice in some of my videos that I am using a spray bottle to spray on and in my bottles, airlocks, sieves etc. This is just further sanitising, which I recommend you do just before you actually use this equipment. The sanitiser I use is a no-rinse sanitiser called Starsan or similar. A little goes a long way with this stuff, so works out very cost-effective.
Many of my recipes involve lacto-fermentation. This is not only because fermented foods taste delicious, but primarily it is because fermentation is an excellent way to preserve and keep your food safe.
Fermenting foods may at first seem a bit scary, but honestly it is easy and relatively foolproof…as long as you follow some basic guidelines. People have been fermenting things for thousands of years!
C.Botulinum and Botulism
C.Botulinum is an anaerobic bacterium. This bacteria is the worst-case scenario. This is the one thing you really want to avoid in your homemade sauces, cooking etc. C.Botulinum is the most acutely lethal toxin known.
Fun Fact: People intentionally get a form of botulinum injected into themselves. This is commonly known as “Botox”!
How do you prevent Botulism and destroy the Botulinum? There are a few ways. Botulinum can be killed with heat, although it could take 100 minutes at 121’C or 250’F . Commonly people use canning methods to do this. If you are going to can your foods, please read up very carefully on how to do this. This isn’t my preferred way of preserving my foods.
The way I prefer to destroy any potential Botulinum is through acidity! There is a reason that the recommended pH level for sauces are 4.6 or lower. This is because Botulinum cannot survive in a high acid environment (which is classed as a pH of 4.6 or lower). Guess what happens when you ferment your food using lacto-fermentation? Thats right, you decrease the pH level and increase acidity. Note: you want to get your pH to drop as quickly as possible, slow fermentations can be dangerous.
Our friend Lactobacillus
Lacto-fermentation happens when Lactobacillus, a naturally occuring bacteria, processes the sugars/starches in food to produce CO₂ and, more importantly, lactic acid. This lactic acid increases the acidity of the fermented food. Lactobacillus is also anaerobic, which means it thrives without oxygen. Lactobacillus naturally exists on the skin of the fruit and vegetables that we ferment, and all we need to do is give it the best possible environment to grow. This is why we add salt. Lactobacillus likes a salty environment, other bacteria doesn’t! Ideally we want a 2% – 3% salt solution. Check out my Beginners Guide video on Fermenting, it should give you some ideas on fermenting your own peppers.
This article was to give you some guidance on the things you don’t see me do on my videos, and things I don’t really talk about in my articles. But they are things I do all the time.
44 thoughts on “Lets talk about Food Safety”
Can we make hot sauce without fermenting and with Vinegar + Salt alone without using any Preservatives ?
Yes you can, vinegar will act as a preservative. I would make sure to heat treat the sauce too though, and keep all the apparatus (bowls, bottles, caps etc) clean and santised
I have a fermentation project going right now. 3 percent brine, temps are 67 to 70 f. The chilies are floating to the top and not fully covered with brine. A small amount of mold started there. I removed it, but the brine had a slight slimy feel to it. There is also what I believe to be yeast on top of the brine, which I removed some of it. I am concerned out the slimy feel. I could see a small bit of slime stick to a spoon when a skimmed the top.
Have you had a look at this video of mine, it may help you with identifying whether it is harmless Kahm yeast or not: https://youtu.be/SIPAqoxF710
I was experimenting this year with fermenting smoked peppers. One batch I smoked all frozen Cayennes (I had to freeze my peppers throughout the growing season). The other batch I smoked fresh Lemon Drops. I smoked them with garlic at 180F for 2 hours. I made mash out of both with 3.5% salt and fresh onion. I did not have fresh peppers to add so I added a lacto starter to both.
All jars and equipment were sterilized then sanitized with star san. I am 3 weeks in to them being in jars and have not seen any sognificant fermenting activity. I got to thinking that this might be dangerous concerning C. Botulinum. I’ve had other successful ferments that took a while to start fermenting so I’m not sure what to do. Should I toss these out of an abundance of caution?
You should see some activity within the first couple of days. Were all your peppers ripe? Also were your smokes peppers blackened?
What temperature were you fermenting at? And lastly, what kind of lactobacillus was it? i.e. was it lactobacillus casei?
How come you do not pasteurize your sauces even when they are below 4.6ph? Wouldn’t you want to stop the fermenation process after bottling?
You don’t need to stop the fermentation if you ferment long enough that all the food (sugars) for the lactobacillus is used up. This is why I ferment for as long as I do. Have a look at this video of mine on fermentation length: https://youtu.be/VZt7PY8ESg4
Thank you for making such a wonderfully helpful guide! Without a pH meter, what percent 5% acidity vinegar (by mass or by volume?) should I add to my 2-week lacto-ferment to ensure room-temperature shelf-stability?
Thats a bit tough to ascertain. Ideally you want your acidity level to be below 4.0 after 2 weeks from a successful fermentation. If the fermentation didn’t happen for whatever reason, then there is a potential that a pathogen could take hold. If you saw that there was activity during the fermentation (small bubbles forming etc.) then adding a quarter of the weight of the fermentation as vinegar (5%) will bring the pH down low enough to be shelf stable as long as you bottle correctly.
Thank you so much! Follow-up: if I have achieved a pH below 4.0, is there any need to boil the sauce or use a hot water bath? I’ve been reading about the hot-fill-hold method but I’ve noticed you don’t seem to do that.
hot fill bottling will work just fine. I use a different method though, I don’t want to kill the lactobacillus (health benefits). Have a look at this video of mine for more info on how I clean, sterilise and sanitise: https://youtu.be/R7SSisK-uUk
Thanks for your replies ChilliChump! I just thought of something: when you say “adding a quarter of the weight of the fermentation as vinegar (5%)” what do you mean by “the fermentation”. Is that veg + brine or just veg? Thanks!
I normally remove the brine. Sometimes I will add a little back…but when I do I generally won’t add vinegar too. So the vinegar is as a percentage of the drained fermentation
Wow thanks for the fast reply, as I’m filling the blender!
I have a ferment of hot peppers going. I did have some Kahms yeast form but no mold. I am at 15 weeks and don’t see any more bubbles? Is this normal?
Of course I read something about botulism and that freaked me out… I stupidly drained the brine and just have the peppers left. I fermentated hot peppers, bell peppers and garlic. The ‘mash’ of peppers is in my fridge now. Do I toss this or can I do anything with it?
Michael, the fermentation will usually only be very active over the first two weeks. You shouldn’t expect much activity after that although it is still beneficial to leave it for longer. Have a look at this video of mine about minimum fermentation time: https://youtu.be/VZt7PY8ESg4
Regarding whether you mash is safe at the moment, I am not sure I am comfortable saying because I don’t know enough detail. But removing the brine probably wasn’t the best idea!
Quick question, if we’re just making a sauce with dried Chili’s and no fermentation, is there a need for 2% salt? Is it enough to just maintain a pH of 4 or below and heat the sauce?
There is no need for the salt when doing it this way. The salt is to help inhibit pathogen growth when fermenting.
I made a mango hot sauce that fermented for 10 days at 18ºC (super active), then I added some vinegar and lime juice (definitely not a quarter of the amount), processed it and left it in the fridge for 2 weeks more. I sterilized some jars, filled them up and hard-boiled them for 25 minutes (they are now vacuum sealed). I have no idea of the ph level whatsoever and just realized that I created an anaerobic environment. I’m trying to find some ph measurement papers but i’m having a hardtime due to lockdown. The sauce itself is great, i’ve been eating the one I didn’t seal, but I wanted to offer some to my friends and don’t feel that confident about it. Is it totally lost? Anyway I could save it?
Thanks in advance!
As a starter just getting into making sauces I think I will be fermenting first because it does seem better. But would you recommend I do this using Jars or with the vacuum-sealed method?
Thanks in advance.
The vacuum seal method for smaller batches, for beginners is probably a good way to go. But personally I still prefer jars and other re-usable containers from a more eco-friendly perspective as well as more manageable for larger batch sizes.
Shaun AKA ChilliChump
Hi can we introduce ur product in india?please email us..thank you..
Hi Chillichump 🙂
I’ve been watching you for quite a while now, and your videos have been so inspiring and helpful! Many thanks.
I’ve fermented a couple batches of hot sauce now but still don’t have a pH meter, and I’ve been winging it. I’ve never had any issues with my ferments; they’ve been textbook. Ferment for 3-4 weeks, remove the brine, blend, strain and then mix in vinegar to reach the desired consistency. Then pour into sanitised bottles and that’s it – I’ve just left it in the cupboard and used it as needed. It goes fast…everyone has really liked it and wants more!
Am I doing something wrong though (aside from not testing the pH – let’s assume that part is OK)? Is there something more I need to be doing to make the sauce shelf stable outside the fridge? While my bottles are sanitised I’m not doing a hot fill method (I don’t think), nor do I give them a boiling water to ice cold bath.
You answered a similar question above but you didn’t go into detail and the video you linked doesn’t really cover this topic (shelf stability); it’s more about sterilisation in general. If you do cover this in detail in a video I’d appreciate a link…it’s the one aspect I’m not really sure about.
Max, the sterilisation is what helps these sauces to be shelf stable. Hot filling is another way of sterilising. You need to get the pH to a safe level, and ensure that the fermentation activity has completed (to avoid bottle bombs), ensure EVERYTHING is properly sanitised and sterilised….this way you ensure a decent shelf-life.
Hello CC. My question is can sugar be used at the beginning of the fermentation process? I am wanting to use cinnamon in a sauce, but only have cinnamon sugar.
Hi Robert, while it can…I wouldn’t recommend it. You want the sugars in the chillies to be used…and when you add sugar to the batch, that will be used first. The pH could then go low enough that it will pickle the chillies rather than fermenting them.
Thank you. I don’t think pickled hot sauce would be right.
Hi Shaun, Thank you very much for all your shared hard work! Have I got this right? The brine ferments you do at 2-3% salt and the mash at 6%. I’ve got two quart jars of cayenne peppers going now but have just enough left for another and would like to try the mash version but want to be safe. I also would like to know if its safe to open the jars after the fermentation has started. I used an onion slice to keep things below liquid but don’t like the smell its giving off. The first one I had no choice but to open. It was too full and bubbled out of the airlock.
Best wishes to you and your family!
My pleasure, I am glad you are enjoying it.
No, that isn’t correct. I always do between 2 and 3% salt….whether that is a mash or a brine fermentation. For my beginners guide video, I pushed the salt a little higher because typically beginners would be watching that, and best for people to err on the side of caution for their first time. Having your salt concentration too high will inhibit lactobacillus growth. I will also increase the amount of salt I use in a fermentation if I know for sure I will need more salt in the final sauce or product I am making….but never will go above 6%.
I’ve been fermenting a batch of Tabasco and serrano peppers for roughly three weeks. I used a 3% brine solution. After 1.5 weeks, the pH of the brine was 4.5 but at week 3 the pH went back up to 5.5. The ferments were very active to the point where my wife made me take them out of the pantry and move them to my climate controlled workshop because of the smell (not bad, just strong). I tasted the brine and it was salty but not sour, and didn’t take foul or anything. Should I be worried or is this normal?
Thank you for the advice, and I really enjoy your videos. Very informative.
I would make sure your pH meter is properly calibrated, and test again. If the pH is still showing 5.5, then I would consider the fermentation a failure. It’s possible another bacteria/pathogen had become dominant
I’m trying my first green hot sauce, the recipe I used called for 4 cups water and 4 teaspoons salt, now that my peppers are soaking I see that most call for quite a bit more salt, it’s been about 12 hrs since I started, should I drain and make new brine or continue with the current or is it already dangerous and should be dumped.
Hi Lisa, are you trying to ferment the green chillies? If it is your first time fermenting, I would recommend doing it with ripe chillies. While it is possible to ferment green (unripe) chillies, it is more of a challenge due to the lower sugar content.
With regards to your question…I do prefer working with weight when it comes to calculating the percentage of salt. Try aim for 3%. This would be 30g salt in 1000g water. When you are using volume, the amount of salt is not going to be entirely accurate (fine vs coarse salt for example). But going by your measurements, 4 cups water, 4 tsp fine salt, that should be fine for salt percentage (around 2.5%)
Do you have any good hygiene qualifications or are you self taught?
Yes I do have multiple qualifications, as well as certifications for food safety manufacturing and food safety catering. My business also has a level 5 (highest) food hygiene rating.
Thank you for your reply.
Are these certifications easy to get? I’d like to maybe get involved in artisan sauce making. Are the online courses worth anything if not, what would you recommend?
Start with Food Safety courses, check with your local authorities what the requirements are for you. Also, if you are thinking of starting up selling hot sauces, I offer consultancy for this. I have a couple spots open at the moment.
I made some homemade chilli sauce with vinegar added and other ingredients.. sea salt, carrots, onion etc
I sterilised the bottles but after settling for a day there is a clear liquid floating on top of the bottle. I smelt it and it smells of vinegar.
Is the vinegar separating or is it something else?
Sounds like separation to me. This will happen if you don’t use an emulsifier. I have made a few videos on this subject. Here is a recent one: https://youtu.be/hLR0bxEIOBs
Thank you so much, I will try adding some on the next batch
Hi, me again 🙂
If the pH is right, how long will a bottle of sauce last on a shelf?
There is more to it than just the pH. Ideally, if you are going to be selling to the public, you want to get your sauce tested. But if do everything else correctly, and the pH is at a safe level, you will get at least a year shelf life.