Weekly Recipes

Chili Pepper Safety

Do You Know If Your Chiles are Safe to Eat?

Chili peppers are particularly susceptible to bacteria that can generate toxins harmful to humans. Some bacteria cause rapid food spoilage, while others create toxins that can even cause death. Peppers pose a higher risk than many other fruits and vegetables because they are low acid, providing an environment very favorable to bacteria growth.

The best known, and perhaps most serious, threat is Clostridium botulinum, the source of botulism, which is a harmless bacteria in air. In the low acid environment of chili peppers between 40 degrees F and 120 degrees F, this bacteria flourishes and produces a deadly toxin that can seriously damage the central nervous system, potentially causing death even when eaten in minute amounts.

Take Standard Precautions with Your Chili Peppers

If you are bringing your chili peppers home just after roasting:

  1. Let them steam in the plastic bag for about an hour. This loosens the skin so it slides off easily when you peel them.
  2. If you wish to peel and seed before packing them for freezing, the ideal is to peel, seed, pack in plastic bags, and pop them into the freezer within a couple hours after bringing them home.
  3. If you can’t get to packing them right away, put them in a refrigerator with the temperature at 35 degrees or below.
  4. If you do not have room in a refrigerator, put them in a large cooler with plenty of ice and close tightly. Melting ice will keep the temperature very close to freezing.
  5. Be sure to pack and freeze within a couple days and do not let the temperature rise above 35 degrees.

If you have bought chiles already packed in plastic bags and frozen, put them in the freezer immediately. You can order frozen chiles here; if you live in the Denver Metro area, you can pick them up, if not they can be shipped to you.

When It Is Too Late for Standard Precautions

  • When in doubt, throw them out. It is common for people to bring chili peppers home, forget them, and leave them in the car for a day. This is taking your life into your hands.
  • If they have been out for a half day or so, you are far safer if you boil them to kill the bacteria.

To prevent the risk of botulism, chiles not frozen, properly canned, or refrigerated at no more than 35 degrees for under 2 weeks should be boiled even if no signs of spoilage are detected. Boil food for a full 10 minutes at altitudes below1,000 feet. Add an additional minute of boiling time for each1,000 feetof elevation. Boiling destroys botulism toxin. Never taste chiles before boiling if there is any doubt about their safety.
At Altitude (ft)                                    Boil Chili Peppers (minutes)                       

2,000–2,999                                                       12

3,000–3,999                                                       13

4,000–4,999                                                       14

5,000–5,999                                                       15

6,000–6,999                                                       16

7,000–7,999                                                       17

8,000–8,999                                                       18

9,000–9,999                                                       19


If you freeze them properly (or can them properly) within hours after bringing them home, you will have countless dishes full of flavorful chiles … and peace of mind. Taking the proper precaution with chili peppers is well worth doing without delay.

Happy peeling, seeding, freezing, and cooking! Got a great recipe? Send it to us!