Canning 101: Why You Can’t Can Your Family’s Tomato Sauce

September 1, 2010(updated on October 3, 2018)

full jar

Tomorrow is the first day of September, and with it comes all those traditional end-of-summer events, including tomato canning season (at least here in the mid-Atlantic where I live). Because the yearly tomato glut is finally beginning to arrive, I’ve been getting a number of questions about how to safely can tomatoes.

The most frequent question I get is from people wondering if they can boiling water bath process their favorite spaghetti sauce recipe. You know, the kind that has plenty of garlic, onions, basil, olive oil and sometimes even a few peppers.

Sadly, I always end up delivering disappointing news. You really can’t just can your family recipe. Anything canned in a boiling water bath needs to be high acid (for the science minded types, this means that it has to have a pH of 4.5 or below). This is because botulism cannot grow in high acid environments. However, tomatoes are in the grey zone, typically having a pH right around 4.5. Because of this, tomatoes need to be acidified when canned, so that the acid levels are pushed into the safe zone and the pH becomes something lower than 4.5. That’s why my instructions (and all other good ones you’ll find) for canning whole tomatoes includes two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice per jar (you can also use citric acid if you prefer).

When you make spaghetti sauce, one typically adds a slew of ingredients that, while delicious, lower the acid to seriously unsafe levels. Unless your family spaghetti sauce recipe contains several cups of red wine vinegar, it will be too low in acid to be canned in a boiling water bath.

Most canning information will repeatedly remind you that it’s incredibly important to follow tested recipes. While I will occasionally play around a bit with jams and pickles (and I only do this because I know which aspects can’t be monkeyed with), even I never deviate when it comes to acidifying my tomatoes. I always follow the instructions in either the Ball Blue Book or So Easy to Preserve when I want to preserve tomato sauce, soup and salsas.

The one caveat I have to offer is that if you have a pressure canner, you may be able to preserve your beloved sauce recipe (just so you know, any recipe that includes meat MUST be pressure canned). Pressure canners raise the internal temperature of your jars to temperatures in the neighborhood of 240 degrees, which is high enough to kill off any botulism spores that may exist in your food. However, you should still consult recipes that have been tested using a pressure canner to determine processing time and pressure.

The good news here is that there are plenty of safe, tested tomato recipes that are designed for canning. Let’s hear about your favorites!

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514 thoughts on "Canning 101: Why You Can’t Can Your Family’s Tomato Sauce"

  • I used powdered ascorbic acid instead of lemon juice in my pressure cooked tomatoes. Is that ok? I just processed them and realized – so i put them in the fridge. Can I add lemon juice and reprocess the cans?


    1. San, if you pressure canned your tomatoes, there’s no need to acidify them at all. Just so you know, ascorbic acid is used in canning to prevent discoloration, but not for the acidification of low acid foods.

  • Hello Marisa,
    Ok, I accept the danger of using the water bath for tomatoes. Ok, I will use my pressure canner; how long, and what pressure for pints at sea level?
    I would rather have just tomatoes not tomatoes with lemon juice.

      1. I have a question pertaining to the above listed link. I cannot, for the life of me, understand the chart they use for canning times! I’m using raw pack 1/2 tomatoes, no liquid, dial canner, under 2000 alt. I see two rows, the first row makes sense, but the second row?? It says something like the process time is 25, then the row continues as 11,12,13,14. I’ve looked on several different sites but none explain how to read this chart. Thank you so much for your wonderful article! Still trying to figure out all the conflicting info out there but your article really cleared a lot of things up for me…except for that blasted chart 😉

        1. Macanddew- The other numbers in the row- 11, 12, 13, 14- indicate how much pressure to use. According to your altitude, you would want 11 lbs of pressure on your dial gauge canner for 25 minutes. This is for quarts. Their instruction for pints is 40 minutes at 6 lbs of pressure for your situation. I hope this helps. 🙂

  • You are correct, Marisa. Sadly, some who have been canning for years and years don’t do the research to see that tomato acidity has lowered considerably in modern times and diffrerent varieties swing dramatically in their acidity. Just because no one has gotten sick YET on your products, doesn’t mean you aren’t taking a risk. Citric acid is a great, cheap addition that won’t adversely affect the taste of your canned goods.

    1. I think all first time canners should follow the rules exactly. After they have been canning a while, or if they have a family or friend who has done it for years, they can start experimenting, but only after fully understanding the reasons you use a water bath and/or pressure canning method. They need to understand the a ph of different foods and different foods mixed together which helps determine which canning method to use and when in doubt, use pressure canner.
      Also, we grow only Heirloom tomatoes. They have a higher acidity then new varieties and hybrids.

      1. I have been canning for a long time, but got sick and laid off for a while, so I still need to look things up. My older Homes and Garden Cookbook works for the easy things and I use the cookbooks that came with the canning supplies (Ball and Kerr) which give you a lot of information on creative recipes like tomato sauces etc. I think you can still get the updated ones through Amazon.

    2. Does your ‘research’ include checking the pH of actual tomato sauce? If not, you’re making assumptions. FWIW, I just made some sauce and my pH came out at 4.

      Calibrate your meter & collect your own data!

    1. Thanks for giving out this web address. I am wanting to can some tomato sauce that has green peppers, onions and garlic in it. It also includes vinegar instead of lemon juice. And I was wondering how much i would need. (My Better Homes and Garden’s canning book is really really old (1973). But it is a good resource. Thanks again for the site.

      1. Really old is really a respective point of view, I use my Mom’s recipe book published in 1958. Too bad it has the cover missing. Suppose that was from seven boys and two girls learning how to cook and can. Except jam pretty much everything else (fruits, corn, green beans, chicken, beef. fish, tomato and sauces,) are pressure canned.

  • Hi, I wanted to can my grandmother’s enchilada sauce recipe, with a few alterations. Basically I want to can tomatoes with spices (chile powder, cumin, oregano, granulated garlic, dehydrated onion) and some green chiles from my garden. I thought I could add the lemon juice and salt that I would add to my plain tomatoes. I am omitted the meat and olives from my grandma’s recipe that I figure I can add later. I am assuming that adding the green chiles is similar to the chiles added to salsa and that the recipe will be safe. What can you see in my recipe that would give you pause? The onion?


    Jeanette Voss

      1. I’m confused- you say “anything with a pH higher than 4.6 is considered LOW acid”? I tho’t the higher the pH the more acidic, and going lower on the scale is more alkaline. How do you check the pH of foods not on the list, like breadfruit and guava? Mahalo for your input.

        1. A high pH number means that the product is low in acid and a low pH number means that something is high in acid. A pH number of 4.6 or below means that the product is high in acid, a pH number of 4.7 or above means that it’s low in acid. In order to check the acid of something, you make the product, then puree it and use a pH meter or litmus paper to test the acid level.

          1. ph 0 to 4.6 is high acid, ph 4.7 to 7.0 is low acid (7.0 is neutral, not acid or alkaline) ph 7.1 to ph 14 is alkaline.
            Marisa is correct.

  • I was wondering if I add citric acid to my tomato sauce recipe if that will be all right for the water bath method? and also if I need to add more or less than what the directions on the jar call for, it is 1/4 teaspoon for pints and 1/2 teaspoon for quarts? I would not want to get my family sick, but would really like to make spaghetti sauce. thanks

  • I just finished canning tomatoe sauce. I don’t know what i was thinking but did add about 1/2 cup of onion to five quarts of the sauce without adding lemon juice. I water bathed for 40 minutes. Is this sauce safe? What should I do?

  • I just found your site; it has tons of really great advice and tips, all useful even for a veteran canner like me. I put up my first batch of tomatoes when I was about six or seven. There was a LOT of supervision. I was so proud when I stood back and looked at my very own jars of tomatoes, from my very own tomato vines in my very own patch of garden. That feeling has never faded. Now, sixty years later, I turn all of my tomatoes into salsa. I use a couple kinds of tomatoes, and since my recipe calls for vinegar I don’t have to worry about acid levels. Now, for the question:I’d like to make spaghetti sauce this year (meatless), can it be canned safely in a boiling water bath if I add some kind of acid to it? Or would it be better, safer, to just put up an unseasoned tomato sauce then add the onions, peppers etc when I plan to use it?

    1. Rose, if you follow a tested recipe for your sauce, you can safely can it in a boiling water bath. However, I find that it’s actually easier to make either crushed or peeled tomatoes for my preserves. However, it’s really a matter of what you’ll use.

  • I have been canning my tomatoes without adding acid for years but decideded to try it differently this year …it was wonderful …my husband says they are the best I’ve ever done …I dropped a few basil leaves in bottom of jar with sea salt and lemon juice and now this is my ‘new’ way of putting up tomatoes.

    1. if you are still following this, can you post the proportions you are using of basil, lemon, sea salt per quart? i can wing it but i don’t want to end up too salty

  • This article got me curious about the sauce that we’ve been making all summer. I happen to work in a chemistry lab, so I packed up two samples from two different recipes made since June, and a ripe tomato and headed down to use our digital pH meters.

    I calibrated the meter using distilled water and tested against some known pHs to confirm and tested all three. The tomato itself came in at 4.24, and both sauce samples came in at 3.92 on three separate tests. I used a fair amount of peppers and mushrooms in the sauce but I also added about a cup and a half of white vinegar to both for extra acidity. I can post recipes if anyone would like.

    Now to my question: You said that anything under about 4.5 is safe, so all else being equal, the pH should be OK here on terms of making it inhospitable for botulinum, right? I’m certainly not new to chemistry, but I am new to canning!

    1. Yep, anything under 4.5 pH is considered high in acid and safe for boiling water bath canning. Typical pH testing for canned goods is to puree the product, so that you can get a read on the overall pH. But your recipes are testing in those ranges, they are safe. I’d love to see the recipe you’re using!

  • First of all high acid is defined as a PH of 4.6 or lower and the FDA has determined any finished tomato product with a PH of 4.7 or lower is enough to prevent the growth of C. Botulinum.

  • I just water bath canned 6 jars of amazing spaghetti sauce, then happened to read about botulism. I used nothing to increase the acidity. 🙁 They are now in the fridge. So, the sauce cooked and simmered for about 10 hours, the jars boiled for 45 minutes, and sat out to cool for 15 hours. Would it be a risk to eat this sauce?

    I am going to buy a canning book today.

    1. Elyce,

      When I was learning to can (nearly 40 years ago), Mama always said “When in doubt, dump it out.” If it were just tomatoes, and you’ve kept it in the fridge since coming out of the canner today, I would say dump it all back into your big pot, reheat it to boiling, re-sterilize your jars, use NEW lids, and add 1 TBL commercially prepared lemon juice per pint (or 2 TBL per quart), and can it again. However, if you’ve added onions, peppers, mushrooms, etc., etc., etc., and you didn’t use a recipe that tells you how much acid to add for the proportions of other veggies you used, I personally wouldn’t trust it.

  • Thank you so much. I’ve heard from “folks on the street” that good old saying, “I’m sure it’s fine!” But I trust this forum much more. Out it goes! just the cost of learning a new skill. Thanks again!!

  • hi. i was wondering – since i found this site – i was planning on canning some hot and sweet peppers in tomato sauce. i’ve done it before, and only used the water bath. i didn’t use a recipe before – but i did use store-purchased tomatos and sauce, then added garlic, etc.

    is it safe to can this in a water bath? i’m not really much of a canning person, but i love italian peppers in sauce. hopefully, i’ll get a reply before i can them. thanks so much for your help.

  • Marisa,
    I’m planning on canning tomato sauce tomorrow. I just bought a pressure canner specifically for canning sauce so that I don’t have to add lemon juice to it (I have water bath canned it the last two years with lemon juice, but I don’t like the way it changes the flavour). I know it is safe to pressure can without it, but so many websites say to do so, including the link you provided above for processing time in response to someone else’s question. I think it is just to be on the extra safe side–I can’t imagine that you could can beans without acid but you need it for tomatoes…? If you don’t put lemon juice in, does this change the processing time for pressure canning? And should I be putting lemon juice in when pressure canning or is it just recommended to ensure absolute safety?

    1. Rosalyn, if you are pressure canning your tomatoes, you do not have to add acid. When you pressure can, acid levels become moot, because you are elevating the temperature of the jars above the point where botulism spores can survive. It is entirely unnecessary at that point.

      1. That is what I understood as well, but so many sites I’ve seen (from government agencies, etc.) still recommend lemon juice even if you are pressure canning. So thanks for responding! I wasn’t going to use it anyway, but I just wanted to hear it from someone I know is a canning pro. Thanks very much!

  • Hi Marisa, I have a question about rhubarb pie filling. Can you prepare the filling using sugar and Lemon Juice,cooking it to a boil then put into sterilized Jars and hot bath it? If so how long would you bath it for in 500 – 1000 ft above sea level ? Thanks Marisa

  • OK so last month I canned about 15 pint jars of a made up recipe for sauce. I just kept adding stuff until it tasted like I wanted. I know so many people who said just make your own sauce and do a water bath it’s fine. Well I looked it up in the ball blue book and the ingredients were similar, just not the proportions, I used my garden tomatoes, 1/4 of a medium onion, a large clove of my garden garlic, olive oil (not sure how much, maybe 2-3 tablespoons), a shake of hot sauce, herbs and some port. I saw that you should use 1 Tablspoon of lemon juice so I poured it over the jar when measuring and each jar probably had a splash extra, I figured it’s help make it mare acidy, then processed for the 35 min in the recipe. I thought I’d be ok. Now the first few jars were done about 6 weeks ago and the most recent about 2 weeks ago and looking up new ideas to make my sauce even better and I see this blog. CRAP! I have eaten two of the jars so far and I’m scared about what to do with the rest. My mom suggests dumping it into a stock pot, boil for a long time then freeze, or maybe get a pressure canner and do the same but pressure can it instead of freezing. Will this be safe? I’ve never wanted a pressure canner since I really only can jelly, jams, chutneys and sauerkraut. But I really enjoyed doing the tomato sauce so I’d like to do it again. I really don’t want to have to dump many hours (let alone the cost) but I will if it’s not safe to re-process at this point. I’m just wondering what time frame you have for re-processing like this. I know if something doesn’t seal you should do it in 24 hours, but all the jars are sealed.

  • Glad I read up on this, too! Although I made spagetti sauce this year, I froze the jars! I do that for leftover soup, too. (I have a vacuum sealer adapter for the jars which is probably not necessary). I didn’t even know you couldn’t water bath can spagetti sauce…although I have started canning my own salsa and am glad to hear that I can do the salsa canning in water bath because I’d have been so disappointed! Thanks!

  • Marisa,
    You mentioned the use of pressure for canning, one of the comments I read somewhere on this sight said it needs to be 15 psi. I have never heard of that before, I use a vacuume machine that takes the air out. Should I still add lemon juice or acid?
    Thanks Michael

  • I’m new 2 canning and started it as I live a healthy/old school lifestyle. I understand all points given, but all in all it makes me laugh when people mention the USDA/FDA regulations. Have u seen what yet deem safe? Fake sweetners/legal opium/mcdonalds?? Why honestly believe anything they say?

    1. USDA/FDA actually test all of their recipes over a course of months to see if anything bad grows in the jars. I don’t like all of their policies either but on this one I stick to the recommendations.

    2. Jacob, I understand your view. But this is basic science; you really don’t need the USDA at all to understand the conditions that a certain deadly microbe thrives in. Just put the USDA/FDA portion out of your mind so that you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    1. I was just on a Univ. of Wisconsin website the other day that talked about measuring food pH. It may have been but for some reason my browser is not opening that one today (pdf). What they did say was that pH measurement using paper strips is not accurate enough for values above I think it was 4.0. So in the range of tomatoes you do need to use a pH meter– can your tomatoes, open one can, cool, puree and measure. (from memory– please look it up) They showed different places to buy meters– Edmund Scientific sells one for $35-$40 (plus the buffers) and the others were all much more. Make sure to calibrate your meter above and below the region you are measuring.
      Wonder of one of those pool kits would work! 🙂

  • Hello everyone,

    I just came across this site, and there is so much great information about canning. I am relatively new to canning — just put up my first strawberry and blueberry jams this summer.

    I experiment with and develop my own recipes, and it would be incredibly helpful for me to know a reliable way to test if my recipe is safe for boiling water method canning (the average home cook is much more likely to have the necessary tools for this method versus pressure canning). Seems like a pH strip would do the trick. If I am pickling items in a solution/brine that is pH 4.6 or lower, can I be confident that it is safe? (Alternatively, would a puree of the item to be canned be the (only?) way to ensure the pH is low enough?).

    I have been wondering if it is safe to using boiling water method to can pickles, which I think is likely to be safe since pickles are acidic. I also developed a recipe for a chile pepper and vinegar hot sauce that contains no liquid except for white vinegar, so it seems like a strong candidate to be safe for boiling water method as well:

    Your input would be so very helpful.


  • I canned up some bread and butter green tomatoes last week. Followed recipe exactly vinegar spice bring to a boil, pour over sliced tomatoes, onions and a few red peppers for color. It was my first experience with canning. I only filled the pot to the bands on the neck of the jars and boiled covered for 15 minutes. Question: Did I make pickles or poison? Can they be reprocessed correctly a week later?

    1. If your recipe involved vinegar as the sole or major liquid, your recipe is probably safe. Pickled vegetables in general are safe to water bath – remember that we are striving for acidic conditions.

  • green pickled tomatoes with sliced onion and small amount peppers (color).
    Followed recipe but only water bathed to neck of jars. Boiled 15 minutes covered dome lid, rolling boil.

    Pickles or poison now?

    Can I re-can it has been a week? OR dump out?

    First time canning.

    1. Did the jars seal? If so, they are probably fine. Because it’s a high acid product, if it does go bad, it won’t spoil in a way that could harm you. It will just go bad.

  • How long of a shelf do i have if my PH levels in my home made Veggie Marinara tomato sauce? the levels are 4.16 Brix is 8 and my Bolognese (meat) sauce is 4.56. Brix of 10 i would appreciate you help thank you. Emilie

    1. Emilie, the pH of a product doesn’t have any bearing on shelf life. If the pH is 4.6 or under, then it is safe for boiling water bath canning and safe to be stored indefinitely (though for best quality, use within one year). If the pH is above 4.6, it’s not safe to be stored for any length of time on the shelf if it hasn’t been pressure canned.

  • Marisa, I’m a first-time canner, and I’m so glad I found your blog! After an unbearably long, hot, summer, my patio grown roma tomatoes FINALLY started bearing this month! I have a couple pounds of toms that I’d like to can into organic sauce. I’m fine with adding some lemon juice (I had seen it included in a recipe and wondered why), but I have a few questions. 1) Do I add the juice to the recipe or to each jar? 2) I’m canning for myself and my son, and want to use 1/2pt jars. How much lemon juice per 1/2pt jar? 3) Will I need to add sugar to the recipe to compensate for the higher acidity? 4) I found an intriguing recipe on that includes ricotta cheese. Can I can that? Also, someone who heard I was trying my hand at canning “generously” gave me a large box of overripe pears. Will they be any good as a jam? Any other suggestions for them? I’m looking forward to your advice-my toms are a’ waitin’!

    1. 1. You add the lemon juice to each jar (please make sure that you’re using bottled lemon juice because of its consistent acidity. Whole Foods has a couple very good organic brands). Doing it that way ensures that you get the proper amount in each jar.
      2. The rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon per pint jar. Three teaspoons equal one tablespoon, so if you plan on canning your tomato sauce in 1/2 pint jars, you use 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice per jar.
      3. You should be using a tested recipe for your sauce, which will instruct you whether or not to add sugar to compensate. Please do not make up your own sauce recipe, because you will not know if it is safe.
      4. DO NOT add ricotta cheese to sauce that you intend on canning. It is not safe to can dairy products and you will end up with an unsafe sauce.

      I have several pear jam recipes on this site. Please check the recipe page, they’re all listed there.

      1. Thanks for the quick reply. I will check out your pear recipes when I’m done here. But I guess I’m back to square one on the tomato sauce. I’m going to weigh my tomatoes, then search your recipes for a sauce that I can reduce the batch size on. Looking at my dinky 1/2pt jars and my strapping teenager, I think I’ll use pint jars for 1 meal serving sizes.

      2. Should I just resign myself to freezing a pasta sauce made from this year’s small batch of romas, and know to plant more tomatoes next year, now that I know how resilient they are? I’m definitely going to make your cinnamon pear jam! What are your thoughts on using brown sugar? I think it’s such a great pairing for cinnamon.

  • I made ketchup today using Mrs. Wages mix and canned 5 pints. The mix called for 6lbs of tomatoes, 1 6oz can of tomato paste, 1 cup of vinegar, 1 1/2 cups of sugar and the mix.

    I boiled the tomatoes as directed, strained them and then added the vinegar and tomato paste and brought to a boil again. I tasted it at this point (without adding the sugar and mix yet) and it was very good! I thought it would make a good tomato soup if I added a little sugar. What do you think? Could I just use the tomatoes, vinegar, tomato paste, and some sugar and then water bath for 40 minutes like the ketchup? What if I added a bag of frozen vegetables- would this throw things off too much? I don’t have a pressure cooker.

    1. Deanna, I’m not sure that you can safely can the tomatoes at this juncture. I’m fairly certain that the Mrs. Wages mix contains citric acid to ensure that the tomatoes have a safe acidity level. Without it, it may not be safe for canning. And please do not add frozen vegetables to it, they will lower the acidity level below safe levels.

      1. Thank you Marissa. I just dug the package out of the trash and the ingredients are- modified food starch, salt, onion, xanthan gum, cayenne, garlic, spices.

        Since there is no mention of citric acid do you think the 1 cup of vinegar is replacing that?

        1. Deanna, since there’s no citric acid in the packet, you could can the tomato sauce as-is, provided that you don’t add anything extra.

  • Good stuff, however disappointing. Recently spent a good deal of time making marinara sauce which I canned.
    Other than the 1/2 cup of red wine and 6 lbs of tomatoes I don’t think anything else added acidity. Is there a way to test the acidity if I were to crack open one of the jars? I don’t know that litmus paper would work since the color would probably be red regardlessof the acidity 🙂 . Also used a water bath for 25 minutes and we live at about 3000 feet. This was the time recommended for some salsa we made which followed a Ball recipe exactly, however that recipe included 2/3 cup cider vinegar.

  • I am new to canning and had a few questions….why can’t I pressure can my spaghetti sauce recipe and have to use a canning recipe? Can I pressure can my non tomatoe based bean, veggie, turkey, vegetable soup? Can I can my chili which is tomotoe based with italian sausage and ground beef?

  • I am new to canning and had a few questions….why can’t I pressure can my spaghetti sauce recipe and have to use a canning recipe? Can I pressure can my non tomato based bean, veggie, turkey, vegetable soup? Can I can my chili which is tomoto based with italian sausage and ground beef?

  • You can pressure can anything. Whether you want to is a matter of taste. Some stuff goes to mush, but tastes ok – not like fresh though.

    For tomato sauce go by the pressure canner booklet, choosing the contents with the longest time and highest pressure.

    I gave up the water bath as soon as I got my pressure canner. The taste and test was canned fish (trout). No longer do I have lemon trout in a jar. I fish and need a way to save my catch for later in the year, other than freezing, or smoking. It turns out like really good tinned salmon (wild of course).

    Happened on this site by accident. Decent information and cautions for the novice, and reminders for the more experienced (aka old).

    When in doubt go with what the manufacturers recommend in their handbooks. If you lost them, they are always available on the net, or with a toll free call.

    Get a pressure cooker/canner that has the capability of 15 lbs, but has the handy 10lbs setting as well.

    Good luck.


  • Can I can tomatoe sauce with meat if I don’t add any water generally speaking? Or should I add some lemon juice or vinegar, I was also thinking wine? Thanks

    1. Anything that includes meat must be canned in a pressure canner, not a boiling water bath canner. There’s no way to add enough acid to products that include meat to make them safe.

  • made a rawish ketchup using tomato paste, raw onions and apple cider vinegar, salt honey … water bathed for 15 minutes is this safe… seals are all good

  • Marisa,

    I’m planning my garden for the spring and what foods I’m wanting to put up and recipes I want to use. I grew up canning with my mom and while we stopped canning in the last 10 years I am planning to take it up again. We always used both water bath or pressure cooker when called for.

    I have been doing a lot of research about what recipes are safe and that old canning books may not be safe to use anymore. Also, about using untested recipes. My mom and I used to prepare different sauces and not all recipes were tested. However, for those untested recipes she always used the pressure cooker. Unfortunately my mom has now passed on and I am looking for advice. Can I still use our old sauce recipes as long as they are processed in a pressure cooker? What about untested recipes in the pressure cooker?

    1. Kelly, if you process your jars in a pressure canner, you can follow nearly any recipe you want, because issues of acid balance go out the window once pressure is applied. The deal is that you either have to inhibit the potential botulism growth with ample acid or you have to kill the botulism spores entirely by raising the temperature up above 240 degrees F.

  • I am new at this. I have been told that I make a killer spaghetti sauce. The ingredients are onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, dry Italian seasoning, bay leaf, oregano, parsley, sugar, parmesean cheese, can tomato paste, diced tomato, and crushed tomato. Can I can this in a pressure canner or not? I would love to make up a mess of it and put it on the shelf to use but don’t want to kill anybody. Right now I freeze it in bunches but would like to can it if I can.

  • This stuff is so confusing! I hope you’re still answering replies on such an old post. You can’t water can tomato sauce, but how about pressure canning? And how do you know the time and pressure to use? One of your comments on here said it was ok, but other websites say don’t even pressure can tomato sauce. I found a recipe for a basic tomato sauce on Bell’s website, so I would assume that is safe, but you are allowed to add any dried herbs you want. All I’ve read makes it sound like you have to follow recipes exactly, but this one changes from person to person. How do I reconcile all this conflicting information?

  • I made my own sauce but the only fresh item I used was 2T basil. the rest were all canned (paste or dried garlic and onion spices). are they safe to water boil or should I start planning a lot of pasta this week?

    1. Jen, if you didn’t follow a tested recipe, the sauce is suspect. And just because you use already-canned products doesn’t mean that they are safe and appropriate for recanning.

  • You told Kelly (Question 137) that if using a pressure canner that the recipe doesn’t matter. Does this mean I can can my own spaghetti sauce recipe? Even if I make it with pre-canned crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. I am so confused at this point that I am ready to give up on this can my own recipe idea. Take back the canner and pretend this never happened.

  • I pressure canned some spaghetti sauce last night with meat in it. Based on my knowledge it should be okay regardless on my recipe because I pressure canned it for 75mins at 10 psi.

    I allowed my canners to sit over night with out disturbing them, this morning when I opened my canners there was sauce inside floating around on the water. Not a lot but it’s there. My jars are sealed, my sauce looks fine. I’m not sure however what I did that would have caused the sauce to leak out and also I’m worried now if my sauce really is FINE…. sometimes I get too paranoid for my own good about killing family with food.

    Thanks for reading any feedback would be appreciated.


  • I took a look at the National Center for Home Food preservation link that you listed in a previous comment, and found this:

    If a procedure from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning for canning tomatoes offers both boiling water and pressure canning options, all steps in the preparation (“Procedure”) are still required even if the pressure processing option is chosen. This includes acidification.

    I couldn’t find anything that said that pressure canning was fine for canning any custom spaghetti sauce recipe. In fact, in the spaghetti sauce recipe, which lists pressure canning times, it says:

    Caution: Do not increase the proportion of onions, peppers, or mushrooms.

    I’m wondering if you can give me a link or tell me where I can find information on pressure canning allowing you to use whatever custom spaghetti sauce you want without having to add lemon juice or vinegar for acidification?

    Thank you in advance for helping ease the mind of a new canner. 🙂

    1. Beth, in the time since I wrote this post, it seems that the NCHFP has tightened their standards. Since I’m sure there was a reason for the tightening, I’d recommend that you follow the instructions found on their website.

  • I’m new to canning. I wanted to can homemade meals like vegetarian curries, stews, soups, dahls etc. Can I safely pressure can meals like this, which made to my own recipe with the pressure canner.

    1. Sonya, I’m not a pressure canning expert, but from what I understand, you can’t just pressure can your own inventions. I’d recommend heading over to the National Center for Home Food Preservation website and reading up on their pressure canning guidelines.

  • Hi Marisa i bought your book and i love it! i made the Tomato Jam, but am now a little concerned about the acidity after reading this long post. is it okay because of the lime juice? Also i cooked it down for about 3 hours, would the lime juice have evaporated along with some of the moisture? i used fresh juice in the first batch, and bottled in the second. this is one of the most delicious recipes i have ever made with our heirloom tomatoes and would hate to dump it! any advice would be appreciated!


  • Are you sitting down people?. Here’s what I did last year. Harvested my garden of tomatoes. A few different heirloom varieties. Cut out bad spots, threw them in my vitamix, skins, seeds, everything. Boiled on stove for a couple of hours till reduced about a third. Boiled my jars and tops for two minutes, put the sauce in the jars, put on the tops, tightened them. Left on counter to make sure the tops popped down. Put on shelf in basement. I put away 17 quarts, we have eaten all but four. I am here and healthy to tell the tail. I will say though, the hubby and I are processing some right now and they are going in a water bath. Ignorance is bliss, that water bath stuff is a pain.

      1. I do the same thing with all my jams and jellies! (GASP)
        The Italians did exactly what you did but they put the jars in a box and covered the box with a few thick towels to keep the heat in for a few days. I don’t water bath anymore…the water is way too heavy for me to lift and besides is dangerous. I pressure can everything now. Much easier…quicker and safer. 🙂

  • I never water bath anything anymore…..I cannot lift all that water anymore (getting old!). I pressure can all my foods now…even tomatoes. I also just add a little lemon juice to the tomatoes to raise the acid although I don’t think I need to if I pressure can! 🙂

  • I have to admit I’m a little confused too. My question is similar to a few of these, can I make spaghetti sauce using canned tomatoes, tomatoes sauce, peppers, garlic and Italian seasonings and can it using a water bath? If I do this would I have to add lemon juice or citric acid and which should I use to least alter the flavor of the sauce? Thank you so much!

  • My family and I have canned tomatoes and sauces for years with 100% success . Peel and core tomatoes, quarter etc and in 22 qt pot cook with 1 tsp salt per qt of tomatoes, bring to big boil and cook for 10 min. Put jars and lids in dishwasher at hottest cycle. Fill and seal right out boiling pot. No water bath required. Remember you are going to bring this back to boil when adding to Chili-Pasta-soups etc.

    1. I want to can my homemade spaghetti sauce but want to use canned tomatoes and tomato sauce instead of fresh tomatoes, can I do that or will they spoil because of not using fresh tomatoes?

      1. You can do it, but you still need to follow a recipe that’s been designed for boiling water bath canning.

  • I make tomato sauce and seal it in pint jars. Cook the cut up tomatoes and ingrediants in the oven in a roaster pan at 375 degrees for 3 hours. Run the mixture through my blender. Put the blended mixture in my stainless steel pot with the top on, and heat it up to the boiling point on the stove top. I put my pint jars in my kitchen sink with the stoper in in the drain. Pour a huge pot of boiling water over the jars so the jars are up to the brim in hot water. take a jar out with a pair of tongs, and pour some of the hot water over my jar seal. Empty the rest of the of water back into the sink. Ladel the hot mixture of tomato sauce in a pint jar until it’s almost full. Slap on the seal lid that I just pour hot water over then put on the ring and tighten it down as tight as I can get it. Let my hot jars cool slowiy covered in with bath towels. Later tighten the rings on the jars a bit more. No hot water bath for the filled jars, and I’ve eaten my sauce that’s over a year old and not a single jar was spoiled.

  • hi again I would really love an answer to my question, waiting with “baited breath!” #145 above

    Kate MCCracken says:
    August 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm
    Hi Marisa i bought your book and i love it! i made the Tomato Jam, but am now a little concerned about the acidity after reading this long post. is it okay because of the lime juice? Also i cooked it down for about 3 hours, would the lime juice have evaporated along with some of the moisture? i used fresh juice in the first batch, and bottled in the second. this is one of the most delicious recipes i have ever made with our heirloom tomatoes and would hate to dump it! any advice would be appreciated!

    1. The lime juice elevates the acidity and makes this recipe safe for boiling water bath canning. What’s more, there are no ingredients added to the tomato jam that lower its acidity and acid levels don’t decrease radically due to cooking. Yes, you’re evaporating out the moisture, but the acid remains.

    2. You can ,can your homemade sauce, minus meat, that’s only done is a pressure canner, if you raise the acidity level. You do this by adding 1 teasp of Lemon or Lime juice to each pint, or 2 teasp. to each quart.

      1. When you are adding the lime or lemon juice do you add it to the total amount of sauce while still in the pot or to each container as you are placing it in the jar

  • Hi –

    in regards to the pH – pH scale runs from 1 to 14. Low pH is acidic, which is below 7. pH 7 is considered neutral.
    pH greater than 7 is alkaline or basic.

    So, your statement: ” When you make spaghetti sauce, one typically adds a slew of ingredients that, while delicious, lower the acid to seriously unsafe levels.” need to read:

    When you make spaghetti sauce, one typically adds a slew of ingredients that, while delicious, RAISES the pH seriously unsafe levels.

    happy canning!

    1. Susan, we’re actually both right. When you lower the acid levels, you’re also raising the pH level. It can be said both ways.

    2. Susan, she said absolutely nothing wrong. lowering the acid level = lowering the acidity = raising the pH. Acidity is based on protons, mainly a free hydrogen ion. When you lower the amount of free hydrogen you lower the acid level (thus raising the pH)

      1. Hi again, So I ventured into the canning world and bought my first Bernardine Starter Kit! Now I am of Italian heritage and I remember all of my relatives lining up their tomatoes down the driveways and garages every September but alas I was too young to help or remember. All of the aunts and my grandmother got together and made a weekend of it. I don’t remember them including garlic, but I do remember eating canned tomatoes as the base for the sugo (sauce) all winter long. They put basil leave in there. Is this safe? I want to do the traditional way of adding salt, tomatoes, basil, but would I also need to put in lemon juice or vinegar to make the pH level safe?

        I also have some Serrano peppers, ONE Ghost pepper and 5 habanero and wanted to make a killer (not botulism!) hot sauce. I have learned from reading up on canning and safety that I sadly cannot make an infused hot pepper olive oil and we would not use it quick enough in our family to even justify making it for the refrigerator. I can’t find a recipe for this and I really only want to make one small jar that came with the canning kit.

        Do you have any suggestions on the hot pepper sauce? Also, since you’ve been doing this for quite a while and know what you can adjust and cannot, are there any suggestions you can send this way to a newbie? Thanks, and your site is fantastic!

      2. Just wanted to come back here to add that I found the Ball Tomato-basil-garlic recipe and I think I’m going to use that one. It looks most like the ones I grew up on. 🙂

  • I am getting ready to make 2 boxes of tomato sauce with fresh garlic, basil, olive oil and came across your article about adding lemon juice. My question is …Wouldn’t all that lemon juice dramatically change the taste of the sauce as it would be so acidic? I don’t have a water bath so will probably have to freeze my sauce. I am a retired chef and am very curious however about the taste of the sauce after adding lemon juice. Also how much do you add to 1 quart 1 pint…or a half pint? Thank you in advance for a response. Jill

    1. Jill, in order to make the sauce safe for boiling water bath canning, you must add either lemon juice or citric acid. It does make the sauce marginally more tart, but it doesn’t alter it that vastly. But it’s the only way to make it safely shelf stable, so we do what we must. More about lemon juice amounts can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. If your sauce is entirely plain, you add two tablespoons per quart (or one tablespoon per pint). For more doctored sauces, you’ll need more. Here’s my basic marinara sauce.

    2. I just made 10 pints of pasta sauce, I did them in a pressure cooker for 60 minuted around 12 pounds. The reason for 60 minutes i use salt pork for flavor. When cooking the batch from start i use a package of salt pork. Cooked the batch for about 3 hours. Then i pull out the salt pork i cut them in about 1 inch squares. added i small square to each jar. the flavor was so good. i added the lemon. that killed the the sauce. i just added small teaspoon to each jar. pressure cooked for 60 minutes. all ten jars looked real good. opened one week lated it sucked from that small amount of lemon. Don’t used it. pressure cook it for 60 minutes pints, 75 minutes quarts. with out lemon.

  • I am getting ready to can my salsa. it has black and green olives plus all the peppers etc.. That you’d normally find. I also load it up with vinegar, lime juice and lemon juice and salt. I also pressure can for 20min. I live at 3500 ft. After reading this article now I’m nervous that I should freeze my salsa or should I just put an extra tablespoon of lemon juice in each jar?

  • I water-canned spaghetti sauce and Mexican-style stewed tomatoes about 3-4 weeks ago but just read this article warning about acidity levels today. I used Roma tomatoes in both. I boiled both for about 30 minutes before putting them in jars and boiling water bath for 40 minutes. The spaghetti sauce only had dried spices but the stewed tomatoes included celery.

    Would it work to un-jar the sauces and re-can, adding the lemon juice or should I throw it all away to be safe?

  • I just finished processing a batch of tomatoes and realized that I *completely* forgot to add any lemon juice!!! Can I pop the seals, add the acid, and reprocess? Or do I need to throw all this tomato sauce in the freezer?

    1. If the tomatoes are still hot, you could open the jars, add lemon juice, apply new lids and reprocess. Just know that the tomatoes are going to be really soft. If they’re no longer hot, I’d suggest freezing them.

      1. I just did the same thing last night in a boiling water canner, and my jars are now cold. However, I do also have a pressure canner. If I reprocess the cold jars in the pressure canner, would they then be safe for shelf storage? if so, can you suggest a processing time?

  • Hello. I plan on making a chicken broth based soup with a pepper, chicken, and pre-canned fire roasted tomatoes. Can I use a pressure canner to put up?

    Thank you!

  • I’m new to canning. I would like to can my mothers Spagetti Sauce Recipe. Her recipe that I have is from canned tomato sauce and what not….and no fresh tomatoes. How can I go about canning this.
    Do I have to add anything special to it? Any advice would help.

    1. Julie, did you read this post? You can’t just can your own recipe. You can only can a recipe that’s been tested for boiling water bath canning.

      1. I have not canned in the past 20+ years, and was recently given a pressure cooker by a fellow missionary. Tomatoes are seasonal, and I missed the season. Would like to find a recipe for spaghetti and pizza sauce using canned tomato sauce. Where might I look? I’ve been trying this morning to do find one and can’t. No libraries/ bookstores.

        I live in rural Haiti. We have a solar-powered chest freezer and find we need to make room for other things, so want to can whatever is possible.

        Thanks for any suggestions – would pressure cook it as would use hamburger and sausage (both made from fresh meat sold in the outdoor market!).

  • I love the convenience of having sauce all made both for spaghetti and pizza, I can tons of other stuff too so I use a pressure canner and follow the instuctions from the USDA home canning guide 3, the only thing I change is we don’t like green peppers in the sauce so I omit them. This is a basic sauce that can be added to when opened with whatever you want. Usually I add more spices, and wine. “Putting food by” also has a basic recipe that I have used many times, it is almost exactly like the USDA one. So if you really want Tomato sauce a pressure canner is the only way to go!

  • So I can’t use my own tomato sauce recipe for canning and have it be shelf stable, but can I keep it in the fridge? I use canned tomatoes which have had citric acid added to them, and I can add more citric acid or lemon juice. If I make a small batch (3 pts), could the sauce keep a few weeks on the fridge?

    1. You can totally keep it in the fridge for a few days. For longer storage, I recommend freezing it. The presence of lemon juice or citric acid isn’t going to prevent mold when your sauce is stored in the fridge for a long period of time.

      1. I made fresh tomato basil sauce yesterday. I have 2 pint mason jars leftover. The comments indicate that I can freeze it but do I need to get air bubbles out first? And about how long will it stay good in the freezer? Thanks!

        1. You don’t have to worry much about the air bubbles if you’re freezing the sauce. That is something you need to do when you’re dealing with the boiling water bath process. Make sure to use straight sided jars and leave one full inch of headspace to account for expansion. They’ll be good for about 6 months in the freezer.

  • I didn’t spend the time reading all 200+ comments so this might be a repeat question: pressure cooker canning CAN be used when canning spaghetti sauces,correct?

    1. Yes, you can use a pressure canner when preserving your own sauces. It is still important to follow basic recipe guidelines, though.

    2. Erica,

      Please don’t take this as a personal affront, it is not meant that way. I always find it interesting when someone says, ‘I haven’t read all the response, but…”, or simply bold face ask the same question that’s been answered dozens of times. Why do I find it interesting, well because in order to FIND your question and answer it, someone must read ALL of the responses, at least up to yours. So basically what that says is, I am far too important and my time far more valuable than yours to be bothered. So I will simply state what I want and you will give it to me. Please and thank you. Nice. Slam me if you all want, but I read all the responses, and have no questions as they have been answered multiple times. Please do not encourage such behavior by responding with the answer, simply state you will find it above, like everyone else. Stop the madness.

  • Your favorite recipe spaghetti sauce is able to be canned… just in a pressure canner. (with no added acid)

  • hi , i just want to know that can i replace vinegar in tomato ketchup with lemon juice? will that create any difference in taste of the ketchup , or its shelf life? how can i attain maximum shelf life without any preservative… thank you in advance,

    1. It’s best not to make substitutions in acid sources in recipes. I don’t know what kind of impact that switch would have on flavor and shelf life, because I’ve not tried it.

  • I’m new to canning and would like to can a couple of my tomato-based recipes. However, I use tomato soup and spices in my spaghetti sauce, not whole tomatoes, no oil, etc. Can I still can it?

  • I want to make & can my homemade spaghetti sauce which consist of 1/2 chopped onion, two chopped garlic gloves, 1 – 28 oz., can tomato sauce, one – 28 oz. Can tomato puree, one – 12 oz. can tomato paste , 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tblsp dried parsley, 1 tsp. Each of dried basil, oregano, 2 tsp. Salt and 1 tsp. Pepper. This makes a gallon of sauce. Can I can in quart jars by adding two tbsp of lemon juice to each jar and put in a water bath? Live at elevation of 6,100 ft. So was thinking of boiling for an hour. Can I do this and be safe!

  • My neighbors and I, all Italian, have been canning tomato sauce FOR YEARS.
    WE DONT USE LEMON JIUCE when jarring, it’s not necessary! This article is insane.

    1. This response is incredibly rude. The safety guidelines have changed over time as better testing methods have become available to ensure the long term safety of preserved foods. Marisa would be remiss if she advocated canning tomatoes without added lemon juice – in fact, she could be held liable if someone got sick following her advice.

      If you choose to take on the risk of canning tomato sauce without added acid, that is your choice, though not one I believe is particularly smart.

      1. Back in ‘the day’ when everybody did everything right, didn’t they only live until a ripe old age of 45-50? I don’t know about crazy and insane, but I do know that if a tsp of lemon juice might keep me from dying of botulism poisoning, by golly I am gonna add some lemon juice.

    2. Jim You are absolutely correct my family has been canning tomato sauce forever infact we just processed 12 bushels last week and we’ve NEVER added any additional acid … Never had any issues…

  • I’m sorry, but I cannot find the information I am looking for about my homemade pasta sauce. Everything says to use a recipe that has already been tried and tested for canning. But I want to can my own recipe for pasta sauce. I know that it will not have enough acid, and has a good amount of olive oil in it. I know that I cannot be canned using a water bath, but I don’t know how long it needs to be processed using the pressure canning method. Do you have any advice?

    1. has a very good recipe for “tangy spaghetti sauce”
      the recipe uses balsamic vinegar for acidity(make sure 6% acidity is noted on your balsamic vinegar ) also a little lemon jc—-it is water bath canning and it is very good I think–acidity of tomatoes depends on who and how they are grown—we never used citric acid additive–
      but since I purchase sometimes from a farmers market they seem less acid and then need to increase acidity—-a browsing visitor pat

  • Ok, I’ve read a great deal of your comments and I think I have the answer to my question. However, I’m still a little unsure. My question is, Can I can my original recipes if I can using a pressure canner. I saw your responses in regards to canning the traditional way but I am interested in canning jams, and sauces that I make at home. I would appreciate any response regarding this matter. I do not want to accidentally get anyone sick.

  • I have been canning tomatoes for over 29 years and yes I make my own sauces and can it as well as salsa and stewed tomatoes and I do not use a pressure canner. I do use the water bath method and add a teaspoon of salt per jar. I make sure my sauces or whatever I am canning is boiling and I pack them into hot sterilized jars and process them for 45 minutes for sauce, 35 for salsa and stewed tomatoes, green tomatoes I only process for 15.
    I also can fruit, jellies as well as applesauce and apple butter the same way only difference is I add fruit fresh ( not for jams) but still in a hot water bath not a pressure canner.
    The only time I have used a pressure canner is for processing deer meat.

  • Yesterday I followed a recipe for canning a spaghetti sauce and did not do the hot water bath method. I followed the ‘using hot sterile jars, lids, etc’. and simmered my sauce for about 5 hours. I did add 2 tbls. lemon juice to each jar before adding the sauce. The jars all sealed after assembly so I felt they were safe to store. Then my hubby mentioned this article and I’m stressing. I just put them together last night so would it be safe now to unseal them and put them in freezer containers for the freezer? Would I need to heat it again first to be safe? I’m wondering what the best ‘save’ would be for it at this point. Thank you!

    1. I’d suggest opening the jars, bringing the sauce to a boil to kill off any bacteria, and then packaging it for the freezer.

  • My mom never used lemon juice. & she kept the mayo in the cabinet with the mustard & ketchup. We always cut the mold off the cheese though.

  • I understand the point of adding citric acid but have a question – I wasn’t reading my canning book recipe well and added the citric acid to the sauce before boiling with all the seasonings. Will it act the same and do its job or would you recommend I still add another half teaspoon to each jar. Thank You

    1. The reason to add it directly to the jars is that you ensure that you’re going to get the exact right amount of acid into each portion of sauce. I might add an additional portion to just to ensure safety.

  • I have been canning tomatoes for over 25 years. I never add lemon juice. Tomatoes are already acidic. I don’t process in a canner either. All you have to do is skin the tomatoes, cup up if desired, and bring them to a rolling bowl. Ladle them into jars which have been boiled for 5 minutes and are sitting in the water. Add 1 teaspoon salt, wipe the rims, and seal with lids and rings which have been boiled for 2 minutes and sitting in the water. Turn jars upside down for 30 minutes, flip over, and check for sealing. I have never had a spoiled jar!

    1. Mike, it doesn’t matter that you haven’t had a spoiled jar. Your technique is still outside of the recommended methods and is not safe.

      1. Actually, my friend who lives in Ohio and has to be inspected and has a USDA inspected kitchen and has submit her recipes for state approval was told by the state inspector that as long as her salsa is 4.0 or lower all she has to do is invert the jars for 30 minutes. No water bathing necessary. She sells to the public – not just her personal canning and this method is approved by the state.

        1. Oh, and she is in her 70’s and her mother who canned before her lived to her 90’s. Both of my grandmother’s lived to their 90’s and my parent’s who lived off of their canning endeavors are both in their late 70’s. Not sure why people think people only lived to 50. And people who did did not die from eating canned goods made at home I can be fairly certain of that.

  • What causes tomatoes and/or sauce to rise up in the jar after processing? I have a half-inch to an inch of water in the bottom of my jars after my tomatoes have been processed. I put my tomatoes through a Squeezo and processed the sauce.

  • Earlier this week I canned 90 pints of salsa with only 1/3 cup of vinegar per 8 cups of tomatoes, however I add more/less onions, green peppers etc (never measuring exactly). Now I fear it is not safe. This is a recipe I’ve used for years. For less worry can I reopen after having set for a week, boil again, add the acidic acid to each jar and put back in a water bath for canning?

    1. Correction to previous comment: My recipe calls for 8 cups of tomatoes used with 1/2 cup vinegar plus onions etc.

  • I just came across your posting. I have been canning my family sauce of tomatoes, garlic, s&p and basil for years. I have done a water bath boil for 20 minutes and never had a bad jar yet.
    I learned from someone who has been doing it for 40 years this way. I am stumped and nervous now.

    1. Canning standards have changed a good deal in the last 40 years. It’s not about jars going bad in the traditional sense, it’s about ensuring that the acid levels are high enough to prevent botulism growth. Both garlic and basil are low in acid and if you put enough in the sauce, it can produce something unsafe. I’d suggest reading through the National Center for Home Food Preservation website to bring your practices up to date.

  • Marisa, I plan on processing my tomatoes safely using the water bath method, lemon juice, etc., and according to instructions, BUT… if i wanted to add some fresh garlic, basil and thyme when cooking them down before i hot pack, do you think it would still safely fall within the guidelines? No oil or vegetables…

  • I don’t get it. I, my mother-in-law, grandmother, daughter-in-law and many other relatives and friends have been canning everything, especially tomato sauce, for ever 35 years now and have never had a problem. I use a water bath canner too.

    1. You can use lime juice, but vinegar isn’t not an appropriate swap. It doesn’t have the same acid concentration as lemon or lime juice.

  • I was wanting to can homemade spaghetti sauce, will I need to add lime/lemon to my recipe if I am going to use the pressure canning method?

  • I’ve been canning tomatoes and spaghetti sauce and marinara for over 20 years. You use vinegar. Look up Ball Canning.

  • Hi Marisa. When making homemade spaghetti sauce I always use crushed tomatoes from a can. I simmer this with spices and add some pork ribs for flavor as it cooks. Prior to jarring I remove the meat. After jarring they go into a pressure canned. I never have added anything to boost the acidity. I do not see the need since the canned tomatoes were adjusted for acidity prior to canning by the manufacturer and the small amount of ingredients I add to the sauce should not cause the ph to rise much. Please correct me if you think I’m wrong. Thank you

    1. Pete, this post doesn’t apply to you because you’re using a pressure canner. This post is talking about why you can’t water bath can your sauce.

  • I pressure canned my family recipe spaghetti sauce and half of the jars sealed, half did not. These were all from the same batch in the canner. Any thoughts?

    1. It could be that you opened the canner too soon, or that you didn’t tighten the rings tightly enough before you put the jars in the canner. You have to tighten much tighter for pressure canning than for water bath canning.

  • I am a newbie so I appreciate your advice on this one; we have an old garlic sauce recipe handed down through many upon many generations of our family. We mainly use it for pasta dishes although it can used for other dishes. Its all fresh made ingredients Not Cooked; Basil – Garlic – Extra Virgin Olive Oil – and special family secret spices – and of course Tomatoes, although the tomatoes are canned tomatoes (changed to canned in the past couple generations as apposed to fresh picked)..
    If we wanted to jar them up for resale do they still need the added lemon juice or citric acid added?
    Again to reiterate, there is nothing cooked in the this recipe…

    Thanks for you advice in advance – love your page / E.F.

    1. Unfortunately, I cannot advise on commercial production, because the regulations vary widely depending on your location. You’ll need to reach out to your local health department to determine what’s allowable for sale in your region.

      1. Marisa – Thank you for your quick reply, but just as a mater of safety, lets take the equation out of resale, because the reality is “if” I was to do this it would be so very low key; small town country gatherings. In so taking that out of the equation and taking the real concerns, “safety” for my families and friends; when they visit we always give them some to take back home with them in jars for future diners for themselves and we have always told them in the past that since there is nothing cooked and the tomatoes come from store bought caned, and fresh extra virgin olive oil, etc. that they should be alright concerning the safety of disease yes?
        So again under “Those” values could you, would you give me your viewpoint on its safety? Thank you again in advance for your advice… E.F.

        1. I really can’t advise on anything that it outside the bounds of boiling water bath canning. I can’t begin to speculate on how this uncooked sauce will behave. If kept refrigerated the whole time, it’s probably fine, but there are no guarantees.

  • I don’t have a pressure canner. My marinara recipe does have 4 cups wine (per 17 cups tomato)…is that enough wine to qualify for a water bath? Thank you~!

    1. What else does the sauce contain? If it has meat in it, there’s no way to preserve it without a pressure canner.

        1. As long as you’re keeping the amount of low acid ingredients in check, it is safe to can tomato sauce without a pressure canner. I can’t tell you how much wine is necessary for proper acidification, though. Here’s the NCHFP’s recipe. It’s a good starting place.

  • I hate to disagree with you, but for years I have been making and canning: Marinara Sauce,
    Chili Starter, Pizza Sauce, etc., in a Hot waterbath canner. I have never had a jar that didn’t
    seal, or one that spoiled.

    Every year, I get at $10. box of tomatoes from the Mennonite Farm near me, and make all
    of these for the coming winter. I also make red and green tomato salsa and can them In
    the same way. If I have a garden of my own, I can whole and diced tomates and tomato

  • What if I start with store canned tomato sauce and make spaghetti sauce. Can I water bath it?

  • Hi! I have a question that I hope someone has an answer to out there. I had alot of snap beans that were left on the vine until they got too large to snap so I picked the and shelled them(shelly beans) and pressure cooked them. When I opened the pressure cooker lid I was shocked at what I saw. The water in my jars and in the pressure cooker was red. I have no explanation as to what caused this. If anyone knows please let me know. Anxiously Waiting, Jennifer

    1. It’s something in the beans reacting with the aluminum canner. You had some siphoning so the canner water turned color, but I’ve had that happen too when I blanched beans for freezing (we don’t like canned green beans) only 3 minutes in a stainless steel pot but with an aluminum steamer basket.

  • Why can you not use your own recipe to can a sauce? What does a “tested” recipe do that is different? TEST IT’S PH LEVEL? SO WHY CAN”T THAT LADY CAN HER OWN SAUCE, IF SHE TESTS HER PH LEVEL?

  • ANNNNND this is why I use a pressure canner for sauces. Tastes better than dumping a bunch of lemon juice in it, and frankly less hassle than my WBC.

  • I roast my tomatoes every year with garlic, onions, celery and peppers at a 350 degree oven until all veggies are almost charred for a real robust flavor. I run them thru my food mill, then add my fresh herbs and simmer for hours until sauce is thick. Then process them in a water bath with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per quart. I never notice the lemon flavor when used later; and I’ve never over the past 7 years have gotten ill. Maybe because the high temp roasting and long hours simmering down kills the botulism spores. Either that or I’ve just gotten real darn lucky!! Happy canning….ugh, I really hate this time of year; but really happy to open a great jar of sauce in the winter.

    1. I would increase the amount of lemon juice you use, because you’ve got an awful lot of low acid vegetables going on in that sauce.

  • I canned tomatoes sauce tonight. My jars sealed, but I did not use lemon juice. Could I open the jars up tomorrow and redo, or should I just freeze it?

        1. However you reprocess, you need the contents of the jars to be hot when they go into the canner. Preparing the jars for reprocessing is going to be the same no matter what processing method you use.

  • pH test?
    IF the issue with water bath canning tomatoe sauce is the pH can we test the pH and add enough citric acid to get the pH <4.5 and then use the water bath. I know you keep saying meat sauces need to be pressure canned, but I can't figure out why if you can get the pH of the sauce <4.5, or when you add the meat is there more than just the pH issue?

      1. From what I understand,the fat in the meat can protect spores. At least partly this would be because they exclude water (hydrophobic) and thus wouldn’t be affected by the pH unless it was far more acidic than you’ll get with citirc acid. (btw, this water exclusion is essentially the reason why microwaving meat won’t protect you either).

  • Hi,

    I would like to pressure can homemade sauce no meat and no garlic and the ingredients I use are:

    2 cans Pastene crushed tomatoes
    1 can Puree
    3 small cans of Paste
    1 Medium chopped onion
    1/2 cup of oil
    salt & pepper

    cook approximately four hours adding water occasional …….

    I need to know now if I can pressure cook this safely?


    Joan Polignone

    1. Joan,

      I would suggest that you contact your County Extension office for research-based information regarding this topic. They will be able to provide you with scientific, research based information so you can preserve food safely.

    2. I would not suggest doing so because of the olive oil. You can put it in jars or plastic( I would personally use jars Mayo or miracle whip plastic jars or any similar jars or canning jars) and freeze it.

  • Hi Marisa. Going back to Eileen’s question from September, could you just add citric acid to your favorite sauce and measure the PH level until you get below 4.5 and then can in a water bath? Thanks so much.

    1. It’s not a recommended technique, but if you were willing to live a bit dangerously, you could. You’d probably want it to measure closer to 4.2 or 4.3, just to give yourself a slightly larger margin of error. And if the sauce contained meat, it would not be advised, no matter how low a pH you were able to achieve in the surround sauce.

  • Too bad when the family recipe originated from Italy a couple hundred years ago…adding a bunch of red wine, citrus or lemon juice is not desirable.
    Does the pH requirement stay the same even if you add meat? And I assume the added meat would also lower the acidic value so you’d have to make even more adjustments to get that back up to 4.5. Am I correct?

    1. It is not advised to process sauce containing any kind of meat in a boiling water bath canner. For that, you MUST use a pressure canner.

      1. I just processed sauce and meat in a boiling water bath canner not knowing this should not be done this way, can I reopen the jars to correct this error. I just made 30 jars of plain sauce and 30 jars of sauce with meatballs, the meatballs were cooked in the sauce before processing OMG they are Christmas gifts. Please help

        1. Unless you have a pressure canner, everything needs to go into the refrigerator as soon as it is cool. There’s no way to make low acid sauces shelf stable without a pressure canner.

  • There are two wonderful tomato pasta sauce recipes created with canning in mind in the better homes and gardens’ canning magazine from this summer. Both require the tablespoon per pint of lemon, and are a bit on the tart side, but have some lovely flavors of basil and roasted garlic, and are just waiting for added cheese or meat when heated and served. I sure hope they were tested because I have 30 or more pints heading out the door this Christmas!

  • My husband cans his sauce and it turns out fine. But of course he makes huge batches, uses red wine and cooks it for what seems to be forever! I can’t say what his secret is because I’m not allowed in the kitchen, and I’m not allowed to touch the sauce…That’s what I get for marrying an Italian.