Salsa, Sauce, and Relish

  • Salsa: are typically spicy mixtures of acidic ingredients, such as chopped tomatoes, and low-acid ingredients, such as onions and peppers, although many salsas include fruits and/or other vegetables.
  • Sauce: any liquid or semi-liquid preparation eaten with food to enhance its flavor. Sauces and purees are a mixture of vegetables (generally tomato based), spices, salt and sugar that are heated to evaporate water and concentrate the mixture. They sometimes contain thickeners to make them smooth and creamy. Many sauces may contain wheat, corn starch or other thickeners.
  • Relish/Chutney: A relish is a cooked, pickled, or chopped vegetable or fruit food item which is typically used as a condiment. Relishes and chutneys are typically served with a meal to add flavor as an appetizer or a pickled condiment, usually with spices, sugar, vinegar, etc.

Food Safety Considerations: Acidity is one factor that is used to control the growth of certain microorganisms in canned foods such as salsa, relishes, chutneys, and sauces.  Many of the raw ingredients used in making these types of products including hot peppers, tomatoes, green onions, and cilantro, have been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks. If these products are not processed and handled properly, problems may result. Even salsas or sauces that contain a high proportion of tomatoes may have a pH greater than 4.6 and therefore need to be acidified. Vinegar or other acids may be added to lower the pH.  This distinction between pH is very important because if low acid foods are not processed properly, they can support the growth of the potentially harmful bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum. In addition to acidity, thermal processing (heat treatment) is used to provide safe, shelf-stable foods.

  • Acidity is measured on a pH scale from zero to 14.
    • pH less than or equal to 4.6 are considered ‘acid foods’
      • Examples: Lemon juice, vinegar, and some fruits
    • pH greater than 4.6 are classified as ‘low-acid.’
      • Examples: Meat, dairy, and bread
  • Water activity refers to the water in the food that is available (free) to support microbial growth. It is measured with a water activity meter in a scale from 0 to 1. Foods with values below 0.85 are considered non-hazardous regardless of their acidity, because they do not support the growth of harmful bacteria. 
    • The water activity of a cracker is ~0.20, which will not harbor harmful bacteria.
    • The water activity of cheese is ~0.95, which provides bacteria with a moist environment that they need to survive.

For more information on acidified foods, refer to Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 114 and Part 108.

Visit the Additional Processing Info page for more information on processing times, high altitude, and commercial kitchens.

Testing for Acidity: Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current guidelines for testing acidified foods states that pH paper can be used to determine acidity of foods, according to Colorado Department of Health and Environment, a pH meter must be used to measure acidity. Your food product must be tested in a laboratory equipped with a calibrated pH meter in order for your food to be processed and sold in the state of Colorado.  In most cases, three samples from three separate batches must be tested to determine acidity.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) & Good Handling Practices (GHP): Acidification cannot take the place of proper sanitation and care in manufacturing. The manufacturer must therefore adhere to the highest standards of cleanliness and product protection by using Good Manufacturing Practices. In addition, many of the raw ingredients used in making these types of products including hot peppers, tomatoes, green onions, and cilantro, have been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks. Using Good Agricultural Practices on the farm will help prevent the initial contamination of these produce items.

Distribution Method (Expand All | Collapse All)

The pH level of your salsa, sauce, or relish will affect regulations you are expected to follow if you are selling a shelf stable product. Utilizing Colorado laboratories that test pH, you can obtain a statistically accurate measure of the equilibrium pH of your product (samples from multiple batches are tested; this helps to verify consistency among batches).

You are selling your product at a farmers’ market, CSA, roadside stand, or other direct to consumer outlet

Licensing:
Selling products you have produced

  • If you are selling shelf-stable or fresh salsa that you have produced using products you have grown, you will need a Retail Food Establishment License, issued by your county health department. You may also need additional licensing and your processing facility may require inspection from your county health department. If you sell at farmers’ markets or other direct to consumer outlets in different counties, you should check with the health department in each county where you sell your product direct to consumers. Although not mandatory at this time, you may also register your processing facility with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
  • Additional requirements if you are selling acidified shelf stable products: If you have produced your product and it is is acidified, i.e. it has a finished equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below and a water activity  greater than 0.85, you will need to register with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All commercial processors, when engaging in the manufacture, processing, or packing of low acid or acidified foods,  must register with the FDA using Form FDA 2541 (Food Canning Establishment Registration; 21 CFR 108.25). This form must be filed no later than 10 days after the firm engages in operations.  Federal Regulations require each establishment be registered and scheduled processes be filed with the Food and Drug Administration for each product, product style, container size and type, and processing method. The form and instructions are available online. In addition to registering with the FDA you must attend a training course in order to process acidified foods. The training course is offered by a variety of universities, it lasts about a week long and is called “better process control”. University of Nebraska and New Mexico State are the closest in-person programs, or you can take the course online through the University of California Extension.

Selling products produced by someone else

  • If you are selling shelf-stable salsa produced by someone else, you are exempt from licensing but must purchase from a licensed wholesaler.
  • If you are selling fresh salsa produced by someone else, you will need a retail food establishment license, issued by your county health department. If you sell at farmers’ markets or other direct to consumer outlets in different counties, you should check with the health department in each county where you sell your product direct to consumers.

Labeling: General labeling requirements.

Sales Tax Liability: General sales tax information.

Weights and Measures: If you are selling your product by weight, you must follow the Colorado weights and measures requirements.

You are selling your product to a store, restaurant, food cart, K-12 school, university, hospital, or other retail food establishment


Licensing: To sell jam or jelly that you have produced using products you have grown, you must first register with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) as a wholesale food manufacturing facility. Once you have registered your food manufacturing business, you may be inspected by CDPHE.  Some manufacturing processes require specific certification and/or training that must be completed before you can manufacture an acidified food or process seafood products. If you are interested in doing either of these, you should first contact the Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability at (303) 692-3620 for further information and visit their page on wholesale food program information and requirements.

If you are selling salsa, sauces, or relished using unprocessed farm products purchased from another Colorado producer or from a wholesaler, you will also need a Farm Product Dealers License.

Additional requirements if you are selling acidified shelf stable products:

  • If your product is acidified, i.e. it has a finished equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below and a water activity greater than 0.85, you will need to register with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All commercial processors, when engaging in the manufacture, processing, or packing of low acid or acidified foods,  must register with the FDA using Form FDA 2541 (Food Canning Establishment Registration; 21 CFR 108.25). This form must be filed no later than 10 days after the firm engages in operations.  Federal Regulations require each establishment be registered and scheduled processes be filed with the Food and Drug Administration for each product, product style, container size and type, and processing method. The form and instructions are available online. In addition to registering with the FDA, you must attend a training workshop. The training course is offered by a variety of universities, it lasts about a week long and is called “better process control”. University of Nebraska and New Mexico State are the closest in-person programs, or you can take the course online through the University of California Extension.

Note that if you are selling at farmer’s market and as a wholesaler, you will need a to obtain a retail food establishment license and register as a wholesale food manufacturer.

Labeling: General labeling requirements.

Sales Tax Liability: General sales tax information.

Weights and Measures: If you are selling your product by weight, you must follow the Colorado weights and measures requirements.

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