Practice Safe Salsa!

Practice Safe Salsa!
Illustration by Leah Sharpe

It's no secret that the core ingredients for fresh salsa have been in the national news since April as the centerpiece of a detective story about the spread of a food-borne illness. The crisis seems to have passed with the mystery solved, but we've opted to share some food preparation safety suggestions to help potential contestants put their best salsas forward this weekend.

For the first time in the history of the festival, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department has ruled that no homemade salsa can be served to the public. However, salsas prepared by individual contestants in an inspected commercial kitchen can be served to the public, along with the entries from competing area restaurants and commercial bottlers. There will be plenty of hot sauce, and never fear: Our panels of preliminary and celebrity judges are ready, willing, and able to rate your handcrafted culinary creations.

1) We regularly tout the value of homegrown and farmers' market produce as your best and safest bet. At this point, the summer's scorching heat and treacherous drought have rendered local tomatoes practically nonexistent and local peppers relatively scarce and mighty potent. When shopping at the grocery store, it is perfectly appropriate to ask your produce manager where tomatoes and peppers were grown.

2) In order to sanitize fresh produce, wash it in a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon of water and rinse thoroughly under running water, or clean produce with a product such as Healthy Harvest Fruit & Vegetable Rinse (18 ounces for $4.89 at Central Market) according to the directions on the bottle.

3) Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and storage containers with warm, soapy water, and dry thoroughly before making salsa.

4) Roasting chiles and tomatoes over an open flame or under the broiler is a surefire way to develop flavor. When handling, peeling, or seeding fresh or roasted peppers, wear protective gloves, and do not touch face, eyes, or any other sensitive area of your anatomy until you've removed the gloves and washed your hands.

5) Store fresh salsa in clean, well-sealed containers in the refrigerator once it is completed. When transporting salsa to the contest, pack the container in ice in a cooler or surround the container with frozen gel packs. Keep the salsa chilled until you turn it in for judging. Good luck!

The Best of Austin: Restaurants ballot is here! Nominations can be made now through Monday, July 18, at midnight. Vote now at vote.austinchronicle.com.

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