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Forgive me for the post being long! I make a buffalo sauce/marinade that all my friends and family rave about. I’d love to be able to give some to them to keep in the pantry, especially the ones that live out of state and would need to travel with it or have it shipped. I want to know if I’m able to safely bottle this recipe. I am also considering selling the sauce if it’s safe to package/bottle.

I’ve been researching for quite some time and every recipe I find is cooked prior to the bottling. I want to avoid that, if possible, because the sauce actually doesn’t taste the same once cooked. I do realize it has to be heated up, when doing the actual bottling, so once I know if I can safely bottle the sauce, I’ll have to test it out and see if the flavor changes. I’m assuming it won’t be as drastic of a change as when cooking the sauce itself in a sauce pot like I’ve tried previously.

Under Illinois Cottage Food Laws, I think I could package my sauce, as is, and sell it as refrigerated, should I decide to sell at some point, but of course this isn’t going to work for giving out to family and friends to keep in their pantry.

Essentially the sauce consists of:

1/2 cup of Frank’s Red Hot (aged cayenne red peppers, distilled vinegar, water, salt, garlic powder)

2 T honey

2 T Nellie’s Key Lime Juice (water, key lime juice from concentrate, sodium benzoate, lime oil)

3 T Grapeseed Oil

5-6 T of dry, ground spices

It’s a fairly thick sauce due to the small amount of liquid compared to the large amount of dried spice. I know olive oil can be an issue, not sure on Grapeseed? I can probably just avoid oil altogether if needed since it’s not much. I’m also open to adding more of the Franks if that’s necessary to raise the PH. Of course that would be a big flavor change, so hopefully that won’t be necessary. The Nellie’s lime juice bottle states that it’s “best refrigerated” after opening, so that makes me think it’s pretty shelf stable since it’s not a necessity to refrigerate even after opening. I’m not sure if that makes a difference one way or the other, but I figured it’s worth mentioning since it’s might be a lesser known product.

Does anyone have any ideas if bottling the sauce uncooked would be safe? Again, I’m talking about avoiding cooking the sauce prior to the bottling, not the boiling that takes place during the bottling.

Thank you!!!

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    Does this answer your question? How do I maximize the shelf life of my homemade hot sauce?
    – moscafj
    Apr 26 at 17:29
  • Unfortunately it does not, though there is definitely some good info there and I’m glad to have read it!
    – Cali
    Apr 27 at 2:27
  • Heat pastuerization generally requires you to heat the sauce to at least 80C. Not clear on how that's going to be "not cooking" it. Also, which spices you're using is kind of vitally important here for food safety.
    – FuzzyChef
    May 1 at 23:38

2 Answers 2

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Regardless of the theoretical risk level for each raw input (which you would determine by conducting a hazard analyses and risk assessment for each input, at each processing step, as well as upstream in the supply chain and downstream for storage and distribution), in order to reasonably demonstrate the food safety of the finished goods, you'll want to have retention samples (ISO has a standard for what would constitute as a representative sampling size per volume) sent into a lab for Certificates of Analyses (COA) for each batch; prior to production, you'll also want to have a pilot trial to confirm various specifications (chemical, physical, microbiological, maybe nutritional but that may be prohibitively expensive) including shelf-life study. The way that shelf-life studies are conducted (in the context of brand new product developed without an experienced food technician and QA team to draw upon) is you send out enough product that the lab can take, e.g., a small sample every week to test, and have enough of that product of that specific lot to meet your target shelf life (typically, it is recommended that you set this target, i.e., your study duration, to twice the actual shelf-life target you intend to claim on your labeling). The tests themselves are typically your standard assortment of microbiological (pathogens of concern, yeast and mold, CEC, and/or TPC) based upon your hazard assessment findings.

As for the product itself, it's not adequate to simply extrapolate their level of safety based upon the raw input labels themselves. This is because you cannot hope to emulate the processing steps that the manufactures have in place per their HACCP/HARPC plans, which likely include sophisticated equipment that perform lethality treatments or other mitigation/control steps (e.g., HPP (High Pressure Pasteurization), etc). You can use heat treatment (time and temperature control) to an extent, but it'd be difficult to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt you're within critical parameters without industrial monitoring equipment. Of course, there are still methods to minimize risk and extend shelf life in the kitchen setting (e.g., sterilizing packaging exterior by applying sanitizers such as sodium hypochlorite 12.5% prior to use, heat treating after packing, storing with temperature control, etc.), just always keep in mind the mnemonic device for pathogen control: FAT TOM. Combinations of the aforementioned are typically employed, and you can reference FDA, FSIS, Codex Alimentarious, and various other resources for standard ranges and criteria for, e.g., water activity, salinity, acidity, etc., for effective control parameters in regards to pathogen growth. Since each manufacturer (technically speaking, each processing batch, even) varies in their processing and handling, it isn't sufficient to lump any one ingredient under the same risk profile (i.e., honey from Brand A is not necessarily just as safe from the exact same type of honey from Brand B).

Another cautionary fact to be vigilant for: contamination cannot always be safely "cooked out", as various pathogens can induce foodborne illnesses by various mechanisms aside from just infection (namely intoxication or infection-mediated intoxication); take, for example, listeria monocytogenes, or other spore-forming pathogens. This is why cross-contamination and supply chain control programs are so crucial in the industrial setting, and likely to particularly be prone to gaps/deficiencies in the non-industrial context.

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The easiest way to answer this is if your sauce is high acid - we'll work backwards from there.

The Illinois 2022 Cottage Food Guide defines a class of products, 'Acidified/Fermented Foods' (p.12) which will be our starting point:

(1) acid or acid ingredients are added to it to produce a final equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below; or

(2) it is fermented to produce a final equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below.

A pH less than 4.6 is the important part because at that level of acidity, bacteria capable of causing illness are usually unable to grow or form toxins. Foods with a pH below this value are generally recognised as safe to store at room temperature. As @Arctiic has so eloquently stated, guessing the final pH based on inputs isn't accurate - but what you can do is test your batch's pH. Electronic pH meters would be most suited for testing hot sauces, and might be a good investment for other at-home food projects. If your sauce meets this, great! You can bottle it and store it at room temp safely without a cook step.

Regarding grapeseed oil - the spiciness from capsaicin in peppers and some compounds from the dried spices are soluble in oil, helping them reach taste receptors better. Removing the oil from the recipe would likely mute their taste.

The other complex things brought up by @Arctiic are covered in the cottage foods guide linked above, but in a more general-public-friendly way. If you do plan to scale up for cottage sales you will need to have pH testing done by an accredited lab for initial validation of your recipe (p.13 in the cottage guide), though you can keep testing each batch for your own quality control. There's a lot of paperwork to fill out, and a very helpful thing to do would be to convert your recipe from volume measurements to mass (weight).

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  • I'm curious if anyone has had any good experience with electronic pH meters? Due to the nature of my former career sector (we were an SQF Certified plant) and product category, we mostly worked with time/temp. I had personally developed our calibration program, which involved conducting verification once daily (operational) via boiling/freezing point methods, and was objective to the degree of transparently accounting for the elevation and ambient barometric pressure at the time of each verification event (if you ever see a sheet full of only 212°F entries on a calibration log, they're...
    – Arctiic
    Jul 12 at 8:11
  • ...not actually doing it for real). We had forayed into packing sauce sachets in-house on several occasions, and for the product development on those I had briefly interacted with some pH meters; however, the units I came across were not (to put it mildly) very "calibration-friendly". I've always wondered how other establishments handled pH verification in-house? We did have an in-house lab, but only for micro + chem titration.
    – Arctiic
    Jul 12 at 8:13
  • Electronic pH meters are most suitable for suspension food matrices such as hot sauces described above. Chemical-optical methods would be near impossible to read properly in this scenario (how do you determine the shade of red on a strip or in a vial thru a red hot sauce?). Jul 16 at 17:37
  • Calibration of electronic pH measurement units is almost never performed in-house and only verified using pH standard solutions, like with the SQF requirements for thermometer calibration traceability that you should be familiar with. Jul 16 at 17:44
  • I believe you may be referring to the annual equipment recertification as prescribed by SQF 11.2.3 (or traceable cert of accuracy upon initial purchase)? However, I am referring to what would have traditionally been a HACCP PRP Calibration Program (such as in FSIS-inspected plants), where daily operational verification is performed. E.g., for weigh scales we out-source them to be recalibrated & recertified annually by an accredited contractor, but on a daily basis we use a set of knob weights (also annually cert'ed) to verify each unit is within tolerance prior to checking out.
    – Arctiic
    Jul 17 at 8:15

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