Fermentation obviously is an awesome way of preserving food or for creating that lovely fermented flavor.

Fermentation of chile peppers is becoming very popular especially in the commercial space. But with scale, also comes safety concerns.

Most larger hot sauce companies are using mash fermentation over brine to produce larger amounts of pepper mash.

We know that 4.6 is the magic pH number to prevent the growth of C. Bot – But it’s not just the pH, it’s other factors that create a hostile environment to the growth of harmful microorganisms, like salt (brine).

From what I’ve read, C. Bot takes 3-4 days to start growing. So I have a few questions in regards to C. Bot growth along with toxin production in relation to fermentation process.

Question 1:

How exactly and when does C. Bot grow? Does it multiply? When is the toxin from C. Bot actually get released during this process?

Question 2:
For fermentations, the goal is to lower the pH of your fermentation as quickly as possibly while letting the C02 push out any oxygen in the surrounding container to prevent yeast, molds etc from growing. Does this mean a fermentation is potentially unsafe if the pH of the mash / brine is still above 4.6pH before the 3-4 days (based on when C. Bot begins growing)? Or is the information I’ve gathered incorrect? Let’s say I have a pepper mash fermentation I start today, I let the fermentation sit for 3 months. I check the fermentation the day I open and process it into a hot sauce and it’s below the 4.6pH benchmark. Is it still safe? How do I know the pH was below 4.6 to prevent C. Bot. growth within 3-4 days. Alternatively, I check the pH of said pepper mash at day 2, day 3, day 4 and the pH isn’t below 4.6, but eventually 3 months later it is. Is it still safe? How can we be sure that C. Bot wasn’t growing during the period before the pH reached the equilibrium of 4.6pH and was releasing toxins during that time?

AFS Desk Answered question October 4, 2022