Can salsa be left out overnight?

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Nachos and salsa are a match made in heaven, but just how long can you leave salsa out before it goes bad?

Can salsa be left out overnight? Salsa is just like any other food and can go bad if it is stored at room temperature overnight. Due to the moisture content and ingredients like tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables, salsa is a high-risk food that can go bad fairly quickly!

Continue reading to learn more about how you should store salsa and how to tell when it goes bad.

What’s in Salsa?

If there is Mexican food around, then there is bound to be salsa on the table too! Salsa is an excellent spicy sauce that is made from a combination of fresh vegetables and spices. 

It is usually made from tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, garlic, and other seasonings or spices.

It is also perhaps one of the most customizable sauces in the world since you can make it in several ways, each variation providing a different flavor and texture.

However, when it comes to storing salsa, things can get a bit complicated. 

The thing is, salsa contains two important components that make it a high-risk food: moisture and tomato puree.

Moisture is the enemy of food because it can enable bacteria to thrive. Ever heard of the saying “Where there is water, there is life”, well, this saying mostly alludes to the microbial world!

When food is exposed to moisture or contains a lot of moisture, it can begin to go bad, especially if it also contains nutrients.

This is where the tomato puree comes in. Tomatoes are notorious for going bad, especially when they are blended because blending releases most of the water stored inside the vegetable – but tomatoes aren’t the only ingredient to blame here. 

Other vegetables like onions, cilantro, jalapenos, and peppers equally contribute to the growth of bacteria!

These ingredients not only contain a lot of moisture, but they also have important nutrients that enable bacteria to prosper. 

Salsa in the Environment 

So far, we have discussed two important components that cause salsa to go bad, but there is a third, even more nefarious factor that can expedite the process of spoilage in salsa: heat, or, room temperature – that can range anywhere from 68F-74F.

If moisture and the ingredients in salsa are fuel, then heat is the ignition that can truly turn things ugly.

When contaminated food is stored at room temperature, the bacteria culture inside the food can grow exponentially every 20 minutes!

This means that contaminated food can go bad within 1-2 hours if it’s kept at room temperature and with the right conditions mentioned above. 

Even if the food isn’t contaminated, it can still go bad because bacteria are everywhere and all they need is the right combination of things to grow.

So, even if you use fresh vegetables and clean everything before making the salsa, a few bacteria will still manage to nest inside the food.

From there, they will just need time to grow. In this case, the food may go bad within 2-4 hours!

This is why you should never store any type of food overnight.

Not only will it cause the food to go bad, but if you leave the salsa open, then you will also ruin its texture as the ingredients will likely oxidize when they are exposed to air. 

Storing Salsa – The Right Way

The only way to preserve the quality of salsa and to ensure that it remains safe to eat is to store it in the fridge.

The cold temperatures in the fridge won’t prevent the salsa from spoiling but it will give it a much better shelf life. In ideal conditions, properly stored salsa can last up to 3-4 days in the fridge at 40F. 

The key is to use all the best practices available to prolong the shelf life of salsa. Here is how:

Step 1) Store the salsa in an airtight bag or container. The best (and traditional) way to store fresh salsa is in small airtight jars. Just fill up the salsa to the lid and tightly close the jar to keep air from getting in.

Step 2) Store the salsa at the back of the fridge at 40F. Many people store salsa near the door of the fridge which is the worst place to store high-risk foods! The fridge door is usually exposed to temperature differences which can affect the quality and safety of the salsa.

Step 3) Consume the salsa within 3-4 days of storing it in the fridge. A great way to ensure its quality is toonly take out as much salsa as you need and store the rest back in the fridge. This will keep the salsa from reaching room temperature which can cause the food to grow bacteria quicker. 

Pro Tip) If you are using homemade salsa, then try to reduce the water content of the sauce by using drained tomatoes. Strain the tomato puree until most of the water has been removed and then continue making the salsa. 

Freezing Salsa

Salsa can also be stored in the freezer to prolong its shelf life! Properly stored and frozen salsa can last up to 3-4 months in the fridge.

Please note that while the salsa will probably last up to 6 months or more, it will not taste as great.

A decline in flavor, despite storing the salsa properly, is a sign of oxidization.

This doesn’t mean that the salsa has gone bad in the traditional sense, it will just not taste as fresh as the day you made it – so we highly recommend that you consume it within 1-2 months for the best experience. 

Here is how to freeze salsa:

Note) The best way to get the most out of freezing salsa is to go with a low-moisture salsa. The extra moisture in the food may cause freezer burn and can even affect the texture of the salsa when it is thawed. 

Step 1) Store the salsa in a freezer-safe bag or container. Make sure that the container is airtight! 

Step 2) Store the salsa inside the freezer bag and remove excess air from the bag before sealing it shut. If you don’t remove air then the salsa may accumulate frost or freezer burn. 

Step 3) Keep the bag or container at the back of the freezer and store the salsa at a constant 0F for the entirety of its storage life.

Step 4) To thaw the salsa, we recommend storing the frozen salsa in the fridge. Defrost it at 40F overnight for the best results. If you want to immediately use the salsa then you can also thaw it in the microwave.

Spoiled Salsa – Important Signs

Here is how to tell when salsa goes bad:

Odor and Texture 

The best way to detect the spoilage of salsa is to first check its texture and odor. If the salsa has an overly runny or lumpy texture then this will definitively mean that it has gone bad. Check the odor of the salsa for rancid notes.

Stored salsa should smell like it smelled the day you made it – any change in its odor may indicate spoilage!

Slime or Discoloration 

The presence of slime or any type of discoloration is also a clear sign that the salsa has gone bad. Even if the salsa is stored properly in the fridge at 40F, it will go bad within the week!

So, always check for these changes before consuming stored salsa.

Change in Flavor

If the salsa doesn’t show any of the above signs, then you may proceed with a taste test. Take a very small amount of salsa and taste it.

If you detect any foul flavor notes or an overly sour flavor then this will indicate spoilage. 

If the salsa tastes fine and it doesn’t show the above signs then it might be safe to eat, but it is much better to make a fresh batch of salsa than to have old salsa!

Related Questions 

Salsa should not be left overnight since it can go bad within a few hours of being at room temperature. Now that you know how to store it, here are some related questions:

Why is commercial salsa stored at room temperature?

Commercial salsa may contain preservatives and stabilizers that keep it from going bad. These types of salsas are also canned – which means that they are sealed shut so that air can’t get inside. This is why unopened jars of commercial and canned salsa can be stored at room temperature.

But as soon as you open it, you will need to refrigerate it and consume it within 2-3 days. Some brands also make all-natural salsa and use canning methods to preserve it.

Always check the back of the jar to see storage instructions before opening the jar. 

Can I store 3-day-old refrigerated salsa in the freezer?

If the salsa is already 3-days old then you should avoid freezing it as it might already have gone bad.

The salsa will not be as fresh either and freezing it may only cause further degradation.

It is much better to make fresh salsa and to freeze it immediately after making it! 

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