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bottling Cold-fill question. Again. But different.

Howdy All,
Frequent visitor/first time poster. I apologize if you’ve already read or responded to this post in other forums. I just wanted to gather as much feedback as I could about this. I’ve read and understand numerous posts regarding the importance of hot-filling hot sauce when bottling to minimize the possibility of a food borne pathogen making someone very sick. I’ve also read several posts asking about cold-filling. However, I’d like to ask just one more time about cold-fill bottling hot sauce with my own specific situation.

Fueled by recent success in growing our own peppers on our farm on a large scale, and years of urging by friends and family to sell our popular home-brewed concoction commercially, my wife and I are considering wading into the competitive waters of the local hot sauce market. This morning we received a digitial pH meter that we ordered recently. After calibrating, we eagerly tested our sauce. Somewhat surprisingly, it came back as pH 3.22. I say only somewhat surprising because the sauce is 35% vinegar after all. But it’s still much lower than we expected. Given this, here’s my question. At pH 3.22, could we consider cold-filling into bleach-sanitized PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic woozy bottles? The caps and dropper inserts are PP (polypropylene, max. temp 275F) and could be boiled to sterilize. We’ve always hot-filled our sauce into glass bottles in the past, but PET bottles are a fraction of the cost of glass bottles and would help us be much more price competitive. As I understand it, the problem with PET bottles is that they cannot be used for hot-filled product because their maximum temp is 145F, and the vacuum created by the hot-fill contorts the bottle. Which is why I’m asking about cold-filling. We're wondering whether we could either heat small batches of the sauce at 190F for 10-15 minutes, let cool to room temp (within say an hour or so) and then cold-fill into sanitized PET bottles, OR mix up a batch without heating at all and simply pump the sauce into the PET bottles. Given the low pH of the sauce, could we expect it to have any shelf-life?

With the exception of the peppers and dried garlic (which we would consider removing if it’s a cold-fill deal breaker), each of the other ingredients in our sauce has a pH of 3.7 or less. A couple of ingredients are pH 3.3. One is pH 3.1. The vinegar is pH 2.4.

Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.

Gram's Dad
First off welcome to the THP, if you like spicy foods you’re going to be right at home here.

Second, mods we need to move this to the Bottling, Packaging and marketing thread.

Now, and there are a bunch of professional sauce makers who will chime in here, once you start producing hot sauce for commercial sales you are going to have to produce you sauce in accordance with what your Process Authority tells you. I have heard this told to numerous prospective sauce makers by Salsa Lady and they will be the ones to tell you what you have to do to manufacture and bottle your sauce. The whole idea behind hot packing is to kill off any nasties that may have come into contact with the sauce, bottles, reducers and caps in the time between cleaning, sterilization and filling.

In so far as cold filling and packing the plastic bottles, Salsa Lady back me up here, you would have to heat process, think Pasteurization, the bottles for them to be safe. So, as I see it, you’re still having to heat the bottles either way. The question then would be if the filled bottles would be more resistant to damage from the heat filled and heated than filled with heated sauce?

Mandatory Disclaimer: This is JMHO based on having done this for a while and having read everything I can to ensure that the sauce I make for family and friends, and I give a lot away, is safe for everyone. Believe me the last thing you want to do is have someone get sick because you side stepped something in the interest of saving a little time or cost. And now I differ to the professionals.



Business Member
Hi Gram's Dad from Hawai'i! Welcome to the forum.

My initial reaction to your process is...."Maybe"..... I've never worked with plastic bottles, so none of my processes are geared towards that.

Bleach is an approved sanitizing method other than heat, and there are also other liquid sanitizers other than household bleach. I don't know if the bleach concentration needed to sanitize a plastic bottle would damage the plastic. That would be up to the Process Authority. (more in the PA) in a little bit.

I have/had a sauce in that same pH range and I was still told to hot fill it. Maybe my approved process said to hot fill in glass because that was the process I presented to the PA, so I don't know what the PA would say about a cold fill method.

Your first step is to find a process authority and have a bottle tested for pH and your process reviewed.

A Process Authority is a person trained in food sciences, and they are qualified to review a recipe and the process the person used to make the product and either approve or deny the proposed process. They can approve the ingredients, but suggest a different process or packing technique. PA's are often times affiliaed with university food science departments, but there are also independent labs that have PAs who work for them. A process review and pH test usually runs $75-120, depending on the facility. Contact Univ of H first, if they can't do it, likely they can refer you to one on the islands. If not, send me a pm, I'll send you contact info for one I know of.

Once you have your results and process review letter from the process authority, then you can go to your local (or state) health district and say "I'm going to make hot sauce, and this is the way I have been approved to make it". They will review your processing facilities (you did not discuss where you intend to make the sauce, so I can't comment on that) and your labels, and get you all signed off on everything.

Good Luck! Have Fun, and :welcome:.


ps- when getting your stuff ready to send to the PA for review, detail EVERYTHING! and present it something like this-

all ingredients in grams, even the liquids
bottles and lids are sterilized in a solution of ??ppm bleach and water
ingredients are ran through a blender in batches
ingredients are heated to 212F (don't say boiling) and kept at 212F for xx minutes
sauce is allowed to cool to about 140F and then is packaged in sterilized plastic bottles, capped with sterilized lids (don't use the dropper insert unless your sauce is really runny)

lined caps-one reason for using the hot fill method is that caps that have a liner cannot be liquid sanitized. The sanitizer solution would get under the liner and then potentially get into the finished product. If you do go with a liquid sanitizer, you would have to use unlined caps. I generally use unlined caps of one sauce I have that is the consistency of water. All the other sauces are more viscous so I don't use the dropper and use a lined cap.
+10 SL, I didn't even think of bleach.

Would the no rinse sanitizers like Idphor and Star San that we use for home brewing be allowed so far as you know? It never even dawned on me that I might be able to use it to prep my bottles in stead of boiling or heating them in the oven and since there's no rinsing required it would be just place in solution for XX minutes, drain and allow to dry.


Business Member

I currently make chili sauces as a hobby but am looking to commercialize soon (internet/farmers markets). I've read on the forums that if you are working with a co-packer they will sign an NDA so that you can feel your recipe is safe.

Would the process authority or state inspectors sign something similar? I'm not saying i have some super top secret formula that nobody would be able to recreate. I'm just not familiar with what is considered standard practice and just want to make sure i'm covered on all fronts. Also to some extent I think we all want to guard our recipes :)



Business Member

State inspectors are bound to confidentiality by their jobs. Not just the food inspectors, but the electrical inspectors indicate to us when they can't discuss something relating to another contractor, etc. Process authorities should sign NDA's per your request. They've done it for me with no hassles at all. If they won't, I'd look for a different PA.