Watch Out for Salsa!

A growing number of foodborne illnesses are tied to salsa and guacamole dips, according to a just-reported CDC study.

The popular dips that combine chopped raw veggies and herbs have been implicated in 1 in 25 outbreaks of food poisoning since 1998.

Most of the problem has been in restaurants and delis where 84 percent of salsa or guacamole-associated (SGA) outbreaks were discovered.  Since the dips are prepared in large batches, many customers may be exposed to dangerous bacteria in them.  Lack of refrigeration is also an issue.

About a third of the outbreaks were traced to poor refrigeration, and one in five to food service staff.

Magdalena Kendall, an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education researcher, and her team reviewed all CDC foodborne illness reports looking for ones that had been traced to salsa, guacamole, or pico de gallo.

CDC has kept track of food poisoning outbreaks since 1975, but no there were no salsa or guacamole associated illness until 1984.  From 1984 through 1997 about 1.5 percent of foodborne illnesses were connected to the dips.  Since 1998 that percentage has more than doubled and now is almost 4 percent.

Kendall said,

Fresh salsa and guacamole, especially those served in retail food establishments, may be important vehicles of foodborne infection. Salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce including hot peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, each of which has been implicated in past outbreaks.

She continued,

We want restaurants and anyone preparing fresh salsa and guacamole at home to be aware that these foods containing raw ingredients should be carefully prepared and refrigerated to help prevent illness.

People with cancer and those who are receiving chemotherapy may be especially vulnerable to foodborne illness.

The research results were reported at the 2010 International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases being held this week in Atlanta.

Salsa Image by Photographer William Berry

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